TGIF: Don’t take our word for it, take the word of your doctor

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

I’m fighting an impulse to get preachy today, but I know that’s pointless.

That’s because I’m not an expert in public health, nor am I knowledgeable in the realm of infectious diseases. There is no compelling reason for you to accept my statements as fact, no more than there is a compelling reason for you to accept the proclamations of some friend of a friend on social media you’ve never met, or the unhinged rant of someone’s uncle who’s had a few drinks too many.

Or, for that matter, the uninformed conclusions of a television pundit who’s given up on serving the public in favor of boosting ratings.

Even so, it seems some people are more willing to believe life-or-death information from somebody whose expertise is in totally unrelated fields rather than believe information from somebody whose career has been devoted to fighting disease and saving lives. People like physicians, nurses, and medical scientists. Since I’m admittedly not an expert, I’ve put together information from sources I deem reliable.

More often than not, we form our opinions out of a lifetime of preferences, biases, and wishful thinking. Then we sort through news media reports and Google searches until we find something — anything! — that supports our preferred line of thought and latch onto it. Studies have shown that once someone has subscribed to a theory or supposition about things, it is extremely difficult to budge that person from what they have accepted as fact, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

That’s perhaps the major hurdle. The authoritative information we receive from experts has been changing since early 2020 when COVID-19 began spreading. Yes, sometimes it’s conflicting. Part of that, probably, is that the science is evolving, and answers are the best we know right now. As researchers learn how the virus spreads and how it doesn’t, health recommendations must be revised.

Everyone eagerly awaited the development of a vaccine, and it arrived very quickly — in medical research time. The rapid rollout left some concerned about its safety, but after half a year of use, we should be beyond that. The uptick of people seeking vaccinations this month as a result of an explosion of cases from a highly contagious COVID variant suggests some are no longer reluctant.

Yet, it’s become apparent that while vaccines provide considerable protection, there is no guarantee. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s announcement this week that he has tested positive even after being vaccinated is a lesson telling us we shouldn’t let our guard down, regardless of our vaccination status. Vaccines, masks, and distancing remain our best tools for prevention, however.

Evidence is growing that the protection provided from vaccines is not permanent, so boosters might be needed. After all, flu shots are reformulated and distributed every year. Even recovered COVID patients probably don’t have immunity for an extended period.

COVID-19 is surging in our own backyard. Confirmed cases have spiked in Brown and surrounding counties, as well as in much of Texas. A week ago, several children’s theater productions at Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre were cancelled after cases were confirmed among those involved in the shows.

Evidence also suggests that the so-called delta variant is more contagious, although apparently less deadly, than the original strain that shuttered much of the U.S. economy last year. Death totals, as horrible as they are, aren’t necessarily the primary factor dictating society’s response. For example, polio killed 6,600 people in the United States in the early 1950s, even as tuberculosis and flu claimed thousands more. However, the unknowns surrounding polio altered how many families lived, and some who survived polio spend their entire lives with medical issues they would have preferred to avoid. We don’t know yet if COVID-19 will result in any lingering or long-term complications. Only time will tell.

While I’m not an expert and I’m not a prophet, I can read the writing on the wall. A few of us who have been vaccinated can contract the virus and spread it. Hopefully, we won’t need hospitalization, but who wants to be sick? Who wants to be told to stop doing the things we enjoy for up to two weeks?

What’s more, who wants to be responsible for getting a child under 12, for whom vaccinations are not authorized, sick with this stuff?

Americans thought the pandemic would be behind us by now, but that’s not what’s happening. Health care workers are feeling the pressure again. They don’t want to see a repeat of 2020, and neither do I. Neither do you. Let’s take care of each other.

Again, you don’t need to accept the opinion of someone in the media, someone like me. Seek reliable advice. Ask your doctor. Please.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.