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Asking Questions: Weigh Benefits, Risks On Health

In this article from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on July 9, Dr. Vic Snyder, corporate medical director for external affairs at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, discusses the importance of children 12 years and older getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Accidents and illnesses are part of the misfortunes of life, and parents spend a lot of time trying to head off unfortunate events.

Some time ago I saw a friend in a grocery store with a young son residing in his end of the grocery cart. When I asked her how it was going having a toddler, she replied: “Oliver spends his day looking for the quickest way to the emergency room. It’s my job to block him.”

Through the years with four young sons, I have used my experiences and information gleaned from when I was a family doctor to educate my boys on the bad things that can suddenly and unexpectedly happen. For pretty much every endeavor related to being an American child–bicycles, campfires, swimming, beach trips, whittling wood, crossing a street, climbing a ladder, walking close to the edge of a trail–whatever it is, I recall some story designed to scare them at least a little. A few months ago, one of my sons told me, “Daddy, all your stories end with someone dying.”

And it is not just our sons who force me to focus on the unanticipated. My wife and I have been married for 18 years, and I am not the first doctor to conclude that rare side effects of illnesses, surgeries and medications are more likely to happen to the spouses of doctors.

OK, there is no scientific study to support my myth. There is no reason to reach this conclusion. It is not true. But we have learned through the past two decades to pay attention to the possibility of rare side effects; the kind of side effect that seems so remote when you look at the frequency, but is so real when it happens 100 percent to you or a family member.

I am a strong advocate for immunizations. The evidence is undeniable that we are blessed to have an assortment of vaccinations that prevent disease, suffering, and death. Some of these diseases, measles for example, I had personal encounters with as a young boy because vaccinations were not available.

When the COVID-19 vaccines were approved for children 12 and older, my wife and I eagerly arranged for our sons to get them.

But I was not oblivious to potential side effects, the most recent being evidence of myocarditis that seems to occur rarely in boys and young men.

Fortunately, most side effects are mild and brief. The myocarditis resolves quickly in most cases, but I did count the days until I was confident my boys were very unlikely to get myocarditis.

Good patients ask questions. Good parents ask questions. We Americans receive too much unnecessary health care: Why shouldn’t we ask questions? The questions fall into two general areas: Are the vaccines safe and effective? And what are the impacts on a community if large numbers of people do or do not get vaccinated?

Your family doctor or pediatrician, someone that you trust, can be a good source of information on immunizations and how they might impact your health or the health of your children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reliable and timely information. And the doctors at the Arkansas Department of Health have been incredibly helpful since the pandemic began.

When it became clear there were going to be COVID-19 vaccines, we were all in one big group of people and parents asking these questions. Some of us had our questions answered quickly, some took longer, and some have questions not yet resolved.

For me, the conclusion came down to a balance. Yes, there are slight risks for me and my children; but if as a community, we step forward and take that very slight risk, the greater risk of covid-19 overwhelming under-protected families, towns, and schools is eliminated.

Multiple reports indicate that more than 99 percent of deaths from COVID-19 are now in unvaccinated people. That statistic is a good start to answering questions.

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