Cases of COVID, particularly the Delta variant, are fast increasing across Arkansas. Hospitalizations are also up sharply.

I’m not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV. But right now, we need to focus on keeping Arkansans healthy and alive, so I want to share with my constituents my two cents on this vital issue.

When it comes to dealing with an old sports injury to my knee or diagnosing a problem with an electronic sensor on my 2011 Expedition, I seek someone I know has great experience and knowledge to guide me and do the work.

But I am also a natural skeptic, which leads me to employ Ronald Reagan’s adage: “Trust, but verify.” He was speaking of negotiating with communists, but it works for assessing experts, too.

I was appalled to learn our federal government had funded work with the Chinese government at the very lab in Wuhan that is Ground Zero of this entire pandemic. That decision was made by experts.

In five of our states, other experts, even after knowing that COVID was most dangerous to the elderly, housed COVID patients in nursing homes and assisted living centers. Unconscionable.

These abuses of the power entrusted to them have accelerated growing public mistrust of our institutions. While expert opinions once earned our unequivocal respect, they now receive more scrutiny. That’s the approach I bring to COVID vaccines.

High-quality studies have found that vaccination can reduce your chances of getting COVID by 90 percent or more, and make it less severe if you do get COVID despite vaccination. That evidence is compelling.

Even former President Donald Trump and his wife have both been vaccinated fully and advise others to consider doing so because he believes the vaccines created under his Operation Warpspeed are safe and effective.

We Arkansans also have numerous health issues that increase the risk of a COVID infection that could require hospitalization, or worse. For example, we have the 4th highest heart disease fatality rate, 3rd highest adult obesity rate, 5th highest adult diabetes rate, 4th highest rate of COPD, and 14th highest rate of end-state kidney disease.

Arkansas currently has the 3rd lowest COVID vaccination rate in the US, and it is being reflected in hospital admissions. Just last week, hospital administrators from across the First District told me that over ninety percent of their current COVID patients arrived unvaccinated.

I understand the concerns many constituents have expressed about these vaccines. One is that the vaccines have only emergency use authorizations at this time, because the long-term data needed for a full US Food and Drug Administration approval is not yet available. Others say the mRNA technology is too new to give them confidence in its safety. And still others are suspicious of the massive profits, and powerful political reasons, that could have compromised safety assessments. Each of these is a reasonable concern, and are among the reasons I support adults having the choice on how to proceed.

Still, the numbers cut in favor of vaccination. Based on adverse event reports submitted to a central database, about 8,000 Americans to date have died or been seriously injured, likely by COVID vaccines. That is 8,000 absolute tragedies, and many more grieving people. But we have had in excess of 600,000 COVID deaths. Some others are facing continuing side effects even after recovering from COVID; many of us know someone in this condition.

While I am fully vaccinated and strongly urge vaccination for adults, COVID vaccination of children presents a more difficult balancing of costs, benefits, and unknowns. I don’t yet have enough information to render an opinion on that.

What’s clear is that COVID has ravaged older Americans. Eighty percent of all COVID deaths have been in Americans 65 or older. And even though Americans 50 or older make up just one-third of our population, they are 95 percent of our COVID fatalities. That is why sensible vaccination plans prioritized older Americans.

Some combination of Chinese government negligence and malfeasance allowed COVID to sweep across the world, and one in every 500 Arkansans has died from it. Operation Warpspeed incentivized the creation of vaccines in record time that can help us defeat the worst of this virus. Please know that I, through my position on the House Intelligence Committee, and many others throughout our defense and intelligence agencies, are committed to making sure China pays a severe price for its perfidy.

If you decide to get vaccinated and are not sure how to obtain one, or have questions about it, call the Arkansas Department of Health at 1-800-985-6030, or text me at 870-292-6747 and my staff and I will connect you to a location convenient to you.

One component of community is being willing to help others. We pitch in when a tornado hits, fire strikes, or a neighbor has fallen ill. There are many Arkansans who, due to their risk of severe allergic reaction or certain other medical conditions, are unable to get vaccinated. We encounter these people around town – in stores, at church, or while eating in restaurants. Vaccination can play an important role in protecting those people, too, many of whom are grandparents, mothers and fathers in our community. Please give vaccination your full, prayerful consideration.

The writer is a Congressman who represents the First Congressional District of Arkansas.

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