In Alabama, where the nation’s lowest vaccination rate has helped push the state closer to a record number of hospitalizations, a physician has sent a clear message to his patients: Don’t come in for medical treatment if you are unvaccinated.
Jason Valentine, a physician at Diagnostic and Medical Clinic Infirmary Health in Mobile, Ala., posted a photo on Facebook this week of him pointing to a sign taped to a door informing patients of his new policy coming Oct. 1.
“Dr. Valentine will no longer see patients that are not vaccinated against COVID-19,” the sign reads.
Valentine wrote in the post, which has since been made private but captured in online images, that there were “no conspiracy theories, no excuses” stopping anyone from being vaccinated, AL.com reported. The doctor, who said at least three unvaccinated patients have asked him where they could get a vaccine since he posted the photo, has remained resolute to those who have questioned his decision in recent days.
“If they asked why, I told them COVID is a miserable way to die and I can’t watch them die like that,” wrote Valentine, who has specialized in family medicine with Diagnostic and Medical Clinic since 2008.
The Alabama doctor’s stance highlights the state’s challenges in getting residents inoculated at a time when another wave of the pandemic has been fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant and the millions of people who remain unvaccinated. Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the United States, with less than 36% of the population fully vaccinated, and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey recently said that “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks” for the state’s surge in new cases and hospitalizations.
Valentine did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday. An employee with the Mobile clinic where Valentine works told The Washington Post that they had no comment. Ashley Rains, a spokesperson with Infirmary Health, which oversees Diagnostic and Medical Clinic, said she did not anticipate Valentine or the hospital system to have a statement on the matter.
Alabama reported 4,465 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, increasing its seven-day average of daily infections to 3,728, according to data compiled by The Post. All but one county in the state have been deemed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as areas of high community transmission. There are more than 2,900 people in Alabama hospitalized because of COVID-19, the fifth-highest state total in the country. The number of hospitalizations is approaching the record set in the state on Jan. 11, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, when the vaccine was not widely available.
The dire situation has strained the state’s hospital system to the point that there are more patients in intensive care units than there are available ICU beds, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Don Williamson, the association’s president, told WSFA that there were 1,568 patients who needed ICU beds Tuesday but only 1,557 ICU beds for the entire state. About half of the people in ICU beds are COVID patients, he told WBRC, adding that patients were still able to get ICU-level treatment in parts of the hospital not equipped for such care.
Williamson did, however, note whether the ICU situation would look different if more people were vaccinated.
“Only 12% of the patients who are in the hospital today are fully vaccinated,” he told the station. “This could have been prevented had we gotten vaccination numbers to higher levels.”
Hesitancy has led to regret in pockets of the state. A woman in Alabama, Christy Carpenter, whose 28-year-old son, Curt, died of COVID-19 two months after he was diagnosed, told The Post last month how “it took watching my son die and me suffering the effects of COVID for us to realize we need the vaccine.”
Valentine expressed his frustration on Facebook over similar cases of those who’ve hesitated or outright rejected getting vaccinated.
“We do not yet have any great treatments for severe disease, but we do have great prevention with vaccines. Unfortunately, many have declined to take the vaccine, and some end up severely ill or dead,” he wrote. “I cannot and will not force anyone to take the vaccine, but I also cannot continue to watch my patients suffer and die from an eminently preventable disease.”
After he announced he would not see unvaccinated patients starting Oct. 1, the doctor said he required that people show documentation of their vaccination for them to keep him as their physician.
“If you wish to choose another physician, we will be happy to transfer your records,” Valentine wrote.
Since his post went viral, critics and supporters, many of whom are from outside Mobile, have submitted Google reviews in the last 24 hours based on whether they agree with the doctor’s decision. The one-star reviews accused Valentine of being a “bully” who “doesn’t believe in his oath to care for all.” The five-star reviews were much kinder to Valentine for giving his patients a vaccine ultimatum.
“I don’t ever plan on going to Alabama,” one supporter wrote, “[but] if I do I’ll be sure to schedule an appointment with Dr. Valentine.”