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Trusting science during COVID-19

Science helped to save my life.

I was born in Lewistown with a rare genetic disorder of the immune system called Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome, a disease that killed my uncle 30 years prior. When I was 3 years old, I had a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Many of you provided love and support to my family during that time. Additionally, countless scientists and doctors who were willing to learn about how to treat this disease gave me the opportunity to have a successful wrestling career and become a doctor who specializes in taking care of children with rare diseases.

Advances in science between my uncle’s death and my life gave me the chance to survive. Since the time of my transplant in 1993, our understanding about this disease has advanced even further. Because of this, the treatment I received will be outdated compared to the treatment my future grandsons will receive.

Should my family and I refuse to accept these new treatments in the future because they are different from what I received? Should we lose trust in science?

The COVID-19 pandemic has put science at the center of the world’s attention. Early scientific evidence and experience from other diseases showed us: People with pre-existing health conditions have a higher risk of serious complications, children are less at risk, and being in large groups of people is high risk.

However, each situation is new and with new information we adapt. This pandemic has shown us masks are extremely effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, schools can reopen with adjusted schedules to assure appropriate cleaning and distance is maintained, and many potential vaccines are being made in record time.

Scientific recommendations have changed frequently over the past six months. With new changes occurring seemingly every week, it is easy to become frustrated. Scientists are learning something new every day with over 13,700 studies published on COVID-19 in 2020 (that’s about 45 studies per day).

Changes in expert opinions do not mean initial opinions were wrong, but rather our understanding of COVID-19 has improved and continues to improve. My family was very happy to know a life-saving bone-marrow transplant for Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome was available after my diagnosis. At that time, this treatment was new and came with significant risks like infections, rejection of the transplant and unknown long-term effects. However, my parents trusted the expert doctors with my life and chose to pursue a transplant.

We can all agree our children’s health during this time is extremely important. Overall, children are thought to be less affected by COVID-19 than adults. However, loss of routine and social interaction with peers and virtual classrooms have affected our children’s growth and development. Prior to prevention and containment strategies being developed, shutting down in-person schools was the best way to protect the health of the community.

We should do everything possible to provide children with safe and effective in-person education and extracurricular activities. Although it is still early in the school year, the results of re-opening of K-12 schools show that it can be done effectively. Thus so far, this should serve as evidence that what we are doing is working. The time that school districts and teachers have spent in coming up with prevention and containment plans has been worth it. Kids have shown us they can wear masks and still be kids. However, we must continue to be ready to act if things change, as they did last month with the temporary shutdown of Mifflin County High School and with the current two-week closure district-wide.

You’re not alone in wanting things to return to normal. You’re not alone in feeling confused. I, too, strongly desire to see arenas packed at high school and college sporting events, to worship at church without a mask and to laugh with all of my friends and family without worrying about who is present and whether they will get sick. However, the more risks we take now, the more likely less will be left of the world as we knew it prior to COVID-19.

Learning more about a disease often leads to changes in ways to prevent and treat it. COVID-19 is no different. We should expect knowledge and recommendations to change quickly with COVID-19 because we have never before tried to learn so much about a disease in such a short period of time. We need to trust science.

Have patience with changes as they come, they are expected in both science and in life. What stays the same is our love for friends and family, neighbors, coworkers and children. If we don’t accept or apply the findings in science with COVID-19 widely then they will not work. As a community, together we can mask up and protect ourselves, and our loved ones with the eventual goal of ending COVID-19.

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Matt Snyder is a resident physician in pediatrics and medical genetics in Houston, Texas. He is a 2008 graduate of Lewistown Area High School.

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