Commentary: Weighing risks, benefits favors getting vaccine

For a Mill Creek dentist, getting vaccinated was about protecting herself, her family and her patients.

By Harlyn Susarla / For The Herald

One of the things I love about Snohomish County is the sense of community we enjoy. We really get to know and care about one another.

As a dentist, I’ve always tried to bring that community focus into how I practice. My team and I make it our mission to care for not just our patients’ oral health, but also for their overall health.

That’s why, throughout the entire covid-19 pandemic, we have readily embraced enhanced safety procedures designed to prevent the spread of the virus in our office. My colleagues throughout dentistry and our counterparts in other parts of the health care system have done the same.

It’s also why I signed up and received a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it was available to me. I was eligible fairly early in the process, because of my work as a dentist. But the reason I took advantage of that eligibility was because of all the other hats I wear.

As a pediatric dentist, I have an obligation to protect my coworkers, my patients, and their families. As a spouse, a mother to young children, and as a daughter, I am committed to protecting my loved ones. And as a dentist in Snohomish County, I want our entire community to be as safe and healthy as possible.

For all these reasons, I also have encouraged my coworkers and patient families to get the vaccine. To be honest, these haven’t always been the most comfortable conversations. Some people face medical restrictions or moral objections to vaccines. Others are simply hesitant, based on what they’ve read, heard or seen on the internet about these particular vaccines.

The reality is that the vaccines available to fight the spread of covid-19 are roughly twice as effective as the flu shots many of us get annually. They were developed rapidly, but were far from rushed, having been based on nearly 20 years of research following the 2003 SARS epidemic. And they were tested on thousands of volunteer patients in clinical trials, representing the highest level of medical evidence, before being approved for delivery to the public.

We recently saw a temporary pause with one of the vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, as federal authorities exercised an appropriate abundance of caution by temporarily suspending its usage until the issue was studied in depth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now ended this recommended pause, and updated language has been added to this vaccine’s label. But let’s look at the numbers that led to the pause. There were six reported incidents of patients reporting the serious side effects that led to its suspension; out of approximately 6.8 million doses administered to date.

These numbers pale in comparison to the number of covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in Snohomish County alone.

Some vaccine recipients have a mild reaction — muscle soreness, headache or perhaps a fever — after getting their shots. But those are signs that the vaccine is working, that it is teaching your body how to defend itself by producing antibodies to fight the disease.

It is my wish that everyone’s decision on getting the vaccination is a rational choice based on facts and data. If that were the case, the evidence is overwhelming: vaccines provide a critically important layer of protection against covid-19, with minimal risk. In contrast, covid-19 is insatiably contagious, and poses much greater risks to you, your loved ones and your community.

But for many people, vaccination is an emotional decision. So, I also ask you to consider all the hats you wear, and ask yourself whether covid-19 is a risk you want to take with those you love.

I urge Snohomish County residents to research local vaccine sites at and sign up to receive their vaccination as soon as possible.

With everyone 16 and older now eligible for vaccination, our community goal should be to get as many people as possible vaccinated, even those who have already had covid-19. The higher the vaccination rate, the healthier Snohomish County will be, and the sooner we can safely return to all the things we love about living here. Please do it for yourself, for your loved ones, and for your community.

Dr. Harlyn Susarla. a doctor of medicine in dentistry and a master of public health, is a pediatric dentist practicing in Mill Creek and the immediate past president of the Washington State Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. The views expressed are her own.

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