Erik Wallace

Let’s say you have some money. You’ve already met your basic needs and you want to use this money to ensure the long-term safety and security of you and your family. You’re not a financial expert and you don’t have any degrees or certificates in finance and your job is not in this sector. You’re not sure what to do with your money, so you invite the public to an open forum to present their ideas on what you should do.

At first, you hear from financial experts, with years of education, training, and job experience, who present a lot of data in complicated tables and graphs that demonstrate you should have a clear and diversified investment strategy to meet your goals. Since you are not an expert, you find the data boring, confusing, and a bit overwhelming. You ask some questions, but you still don’t comprehend everything that they’re saying and their advice contradicts other advice you have heard. You’re also a bit skeptical because you have some friends who got burned by other “trusted” financial advisors who claimed they were acting in their clients’ best interests and lost a lot of money.

Next you hear from a much more passionate crowd of speakers who claim that data presented by the financial experts is clearly false. They present data they’ve read on the internet and present it in a way that refutes the experts’ investment strategies and they propose that you should gamble all of your extra money.

At this point, what do you do with this conflicting information? The first step is to understand that every action, or inaction, caries a degree of risk and benefit. If you invest your money, you might gain or lose in both the short term and long term. Data shows that with a sound investment strategy, the odds are great that you can achieve your goals in the long term. However, while many financial advisors act as true fiduciaries, you are reminded that some are greedy and self-serving. If you gamble all of your money, you may win big and very quickly which would feel great. However, the data clearly show that although you may win in the short term, you will almost certainly lose in the long term. If this was not true, casinos would not exist.

A similar scenario took place at the El Paso County Board of Health Meeting on December 15, which I attended. In considering the resolution, “That the Board of Health hereby finds the COVID-19 vaccines are a critical prevention strategy to protect the health and well-being of El Paso County communities and to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19,” the Board listened to public comment from a variety of people. Some speakers were physicians, epidemiologists, and other health professionals with years of education, experience, and who have cared for many patients who have both survived and died from COVID-19. Other speakers presented contradictory data they believed to be true and backed by skepticism of the health care and pharmaceutical industries and by personal anecdotes to justify their position.

The job of the Board of Health is to use their collective expertise to carefully consider and analyze complicated and conflicting data and make decisions about public health where the benefits outweigh the risks. Our current COVID vaccines are not perfect, and no vaccine, medication, surgery, or public health intervention has ever been perfect. Since COVID vaccines often cause mild side effects, rarely cause severe side effects, and most people survive COVID infections without severe complications, choosing to get the vaccine can feel more like gambling to some people. However, given that COVID infections carry a far greater risk of severe side effects and death than vaccinations do, then choosing to not get vaccinated is the far greater gamble based on current data. In other words, if you get COVID and survive, you are lucky.

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of very young and healthy unvaccinated people who are decidedly unlucky and are dying of COVID complications. Thus, if your primary goal is avoiding serious illness and death from COVID, not getting vaccinated is by far the biggest gamble.

People should be skeptical of an imperfect health care system, especially if they or their loved ones have been harmed or when they hear stories of physicians, health systems, and companies who participate in unscrupulous behaviors for their own benefit. However, after you consider complicated health information, if you’re still not sure what decision to make, should you listen to and carefully consider perspectives of health care experts and ask questions so you can be as certain as possible before making an informed decision? On the individual level, this is your decision. The Board’s vote on this resolution did not mandate any individual to receive a vaccination but it does provide clarity based on current evidence.

Dr. Wallace is an Internal Medicine Physician and Associate Dean for Colorado Springs Branch at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. His viewpoints are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.


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