Prioritizing COVID-19 ICU Beds


As the Delta COVID variant surges across the nation, hospitalizations have increased significantly. As hospital beds become scarce in some states, many fear that ICU beds could fill up. Due to this, groups in Texas have begun discussing the idea of taking vaccine status into account for ICU beds if the state’s COVID condition worsens. This week, the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guideline Task Force sent out a memo to its doctors, allowing them to take vaccination status into account when considering who to prioritize for care. While other factors are also considered, such as preexisting health conditions, if two patients are equal in condition, the vaccinated patient will be treated first.

Prioritizing specific patients isn’t a completely new idea in healthcare. It’s very common for hospital emergency rooms to take the sickest patients first, regardless of when the individual arrived at the hospital. This is why patients can often experience very long wait times to be assisted in ERs.

However, this scenario is slightly different. Texas lawmakers are arguing that patients that have had a COVID vaccine should be assisted first. People that have had the vaccine are less likely to experience extreme symptoms from the virus, making them less likely to be hospitalized in the first place and more likely to survive. Thus, the argument is that by taking in patients that have had the COVID vaccine first, the hospital will be able to save as many lives as possible.

Proponents of this idea argue that it’s the duty of doctors to save as many lives as possible. However, those against it dispute that it’s unethical to prioritize patients based on vaccination status. This raises the question: does this task force in Texas have the authority to make such an important life or death decision? Moreover, should vaccination status be considered in ICU prioritization?