Beware the politicizing of COVID-19

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Best let science be your guide through these perilous times

Politics has always been an essential aspect of public campaign or effort. Never so much more than this year with the lives of so many at stake, particularly those of color. It has long been documented that Black and Brown people suffer more from health inequities then Whites. That has been exacerbated with the outbreak of COVID-19, the morbidity and mortality among people of color far exceeding those of Whites.

As a physician and scientist, I urge everyone to consider the consequences of all of the choices to be considered. First and foremost should be the health and welfare of you and your family.

Statements or guidelines from scientific sources such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) should be followed. Just as important is health information from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) or local health agencies or your clinics and doctors’ offices.

Information from these agencies is based on scientific study and treatment outcomes. This is unlike some elected officials, including those currently running for office, who have a specific agenda or narrative. My advice is to follow the sciences.

This is extremely important when considering the release of an upcoming vaccine against the virus. I hope that science will guide us as it’s released to the public; but politics remains a factor, particularly if it builds the narrative that one political party “has the cure.”

I remember in the 1970s when the swine flu vaccine caused multiple medical problems with some of those receiving it. More studies were carried out to improve that vaccine’s efficacy.

As you may or not be aware, there is currently a phase three trial for a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford College instituted by HealthPartners. A phase 3 trial is utilized to determine a drug’s efficacy—if it helps people. That is done by giving half of the study’s participants the vaccine and the other half a placebo or no vaccine at all and then comparing the COVID-19 contraction rates.

A problem with most medical studies is that persons of color rarely participate based on years of mistrust and deception directed particularly toward the Black community. I will tell you that this study, as constructed, will have to be determined to be safe.

AstraZeneca just put their vaccine trial “on hold” while further clarification ensues. That said, Black and Brown persons’ involvement is crucial to finding out if the vaccine is truly helpful, especially for us.

Complicating the COVID-19 pandemic is that we must be able to provide for our families both financially and to their education and livelihood. Again, let science be your guide. We need to continue to socially distance, wear our masks, and treat all of our other medical problems with doctors’ or dentists’ visits, taking our medications, and following as best we can our exercise routines.

Returning to school is a big part of this. When I look at all options, the safest alternative is virtual, computer-based learning. But there is a need to ensure that our communities have all of the necessary hardware, software, and internet bandwidth and accessibility that all students in all communities have.

Your school district is responsible for the reassurance you need. Remember, there is scientific data that shows our children have not been as critically affected by COVID-19, but they do become infected and consequently become spreaders of the disease. Then it can affect those in our households and subsequent communities who are at more at risk for disease progression, hospitalizations, and even death.

Just as important is the need to continue to work and provide housing for our families. Black and Brown persons are often essential workers and on the front lines, and thus another risk factor for why this disease disproportionately affects us.

We cannot afford to miss work. We are required to be at work. And to the other extreme, we may also be the first to be furloughed or let go.

To that end, our workplaces need to ensure safety for us. Again, science has led the way to the best protocols for social distancing, PPE use, work shifts, and of course medical monitoring and coverage if necessary.

There are many resources available for you to help with what can be a complicated decision tree, including the CDC, FDA and MDH. I would include your work’s human resources department (HR) and your specific Minnesota public school district.

Above all else, please do not let politics guide your decision-making for these important matters. Let science be your guide, not politics!

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.