COVID-19 Vaccine Update: Part 1 | Mendel Singer, PhD MPH

I’ve been updating my own community about the COVID-19 vaccine and wish to do the same for the Torah city of Lakewood. I’ve previously expressed my Hakaras Hatov to Lakewood, a community very dear to my heart (even before two of my kids moved there). I have spent 25 years as a professor of population/public health and a vice chair at a leading medical school, specializing in evidence-based medicine and public health. I am quite capable of objectively reviewing the medical research and communicating it to the public, while staying within the limits of what the evidence actually says. I have trained many doctors in understanding health care research. But there are two items to address before I report on the vaccine data so far.

A year ago, the virus hit. In April much of the country was in lockdown. By the end of the month, COVID had become politicized and from then on it became very difficult to know the truth about anything related to COVID. News isn’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, people bought newspapers. The goal of the news was unbiased reporting, and opinion columns were clearly labeled as such. Now, people can read most news from any online source for free and the revenue comes from clicks. Their goal is to make you open up the most articles and that means reporting what their target audience wants to hear. People go into journalism not to report news, but as a form of activism. Opinion is thoroughly integrated into reporting. And that’s just the news! Social media? Yikes! People are swayed by literally random people on the internet. It is natural to favor those who say something that supports what you tend to believe, but are they actually credible? A major challenge of our day is that most people are totally consumed with being right, and not committed to knowing the truth. Imagine someone writing about a halachic issue and they only look for psakim that come to the conclusion they want! A Torah community seeks the truth.

But the fundamental problem in medical knowledge by press report is that the news tends to report…..the news. Once a topic isn’t the hot topic of conversation, it doesn’t get reported on. And the news comes bit by bit, with confusing pieces intermittently that make it hard to put it all together. Medical evidence takes time to build towards a conclusion. But the first medical news of something gets tons of attention, and later when we really understand the truth, it doesn’t get reported at all! It’s the same thing with COVID. If people get COVID after getting vaccinated, it’s news – even though people can be infected prior to getting vaccinated and first show symptoms days to a week after vaccination. And the first dose of vaccine can take up to 14 days to reach 50% protection. The gaudy 95% protection is a week after the second dose. About 1,000 nursing home residents in the US die every day, so if you vaccinate 2/3 of nursing home residents in a short period of time, some will die soon after getting the vaccine. But that’s news!

One more thing. We are Torah yidden. We are trained to put aside our own personal ideas and follow the instructions of our Gedolim because that is the ratzon Hashem. What have the Gedolim said about the vaccine? Many have either strongly recommended the vaccine or ruled it a chiyuv to get it.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky rules the vaccine is obligatory due to hishtadlus. I have often wondered why hishtadlus hasn’t been talked about more in regard to COVID-19. Vaccines, like medicines, are the hand of Hashem in a world of hester panim. I know the science and the data, but my job is to look at vaccination as hishtadlus and recognize that ultimately it is all up to Hashem. I am also not so keen to rely on my own zechusim to save me.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky was also part of a joint statement with Rav Gershon Edelstein (who publicized his vaccination) and Rav Shalom Cohen that stated anyone who can get vaccinated, should.

Rav Yitzchak Yosef – vaccination is an obligation.

Rav Asher Weiss – says you should definitely get vaccinated but stops short of saying it is an obligation. The full shiur is just over an hour and had me spellbound every second. The shiur from 2 months ago is very clear and easy to follow! The link is set to the part where he specifically addresses the COVID-19 vaccine (about 20 minutes before the end), but I highly recommend going back to the beginning if you can spare the hour. A written summary can be found here.

In Part 2, I will go over what we have learned about the vaccine in practice. There’s a lot of data now about safety and effectiveness in actual practice. About 100 million doses have been given worldwide.

Meanwhile……we have clear guidance from the Gedolim and that’s really all we should need.

Mendel Singer, PhD MPH

Associate Professor and Vice Chair for Education

Dept. of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences

School of Medicine

Case Western Reserve University


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  1. There is a video of reb chaim saying not to take the newly untested vaccine we should listen to both sides
    It’s not a pro vs anti vaxxers , it’s a simple question of what are the long term affects of the new vaccine nobody knows yet, while we know 99.5 percent survive covid with no issues, so if it turns out there are long term affects of the vaccine it can not be undone for those who took it

    You should consult your gedolim and doctors, i personally know doctors and gedolim that aren’t fans of the vaccine especially for younger people,

    Keep your ears open it’s not a one sided debate

    • Fake news…Reb Chaim says one should definitely take the vaccine.
      Back up your statement “I personally know doctord & gedolim that aren’;t fans of the vaccine…….”

    • This is not a question for gedolim. This is a question for doctors.

      Gedolei HaPoskim are recommending it because any risks (of which there are none known at this point) are far outweighed by the much greater risk of leaving yourself vulnerable to a virus that has an actually known potential to kill.

      I recently also saw an anonymously written teshuva that stated that the fact that 99.5% survive is NOT the statistic we should be focusing on. The important statistic is how many people YOU CAN INFECT if you get the virus. You may have no symptoms and in most cases you will have mild symptoms. BUT you will either not know you have it or only find out about it after you are already contagious. In the meantime you will definitely infect others who will then infect others. So your little infection that was a mild inconvenience for you might cause a death down the line for which you were a facilitator. And therein lies the evil of those who claim that precautions aren’t necessary.

      If you get infected because of your carelessness you are a potential killer.

      Because this spreads so easily you need to mask and social distance and get vaccinated.

  2. There are a lot of confusion and that’s because nobody trusts the government. They shut us down causing way more damage then any virus would cause, they made up rules and regulations that make no sense, they continue to lie to us daily. The main question is , is the vaccine safe, yes or no. The government doesn’t know as it’s not been tested long enough. No doctor can tell me it’s safe. We don’t know the long term effects of the vaccine. At this point many feel they have a better chance with the virus then the vaccine. It’s up to the government or doctors to prove the vaccine is effective and safe. So far they haven’t done so.

    • First of all, the technology being used fo rth evaccine has been around for many years. That is why the companies were able to produce the vaccine at a record pace. The safety of the vaccine lies in this bit of not so new knowledge.
      As far as the statement about having a better chance with covid, that is true ignorance as many have suffered serious and sometimes deadly after affects from getting Covid. Sometimes these after affects appear weeks or months later.
      If “ignorance is bliss” then Sam is a very happy person.

  3. I agree with @Morris. I saw that video of R’ Chaim where a person explains the possible side effects of the vaccine and he says not to take it. I have also seen videos of people who got these side effects — so they are real. You could check the VAERS report on the cdc website for all the thousands of side effects already reported. Rabbanim and doctors against the vaccine are being silenced but they exist. If you want to be safe and not get covid, you could take hcq or ivermectin as a prophylaxis and keep you vitamin D levels around 80.

  4. To Sam:
    This has nothing to do with our Gov. Do you ever go to regular doctors or just Alternative practitioners?
    Because the whole regular medicine is based on what is better, Not always perfectly Safe!

    • To Shmulka , not sure what your point is or if it’s directed to me. My doctor never gave me a medication that wasn’t proven safe. Does yours?
      The vaccine hasn’t been proven safe simply because it’s new . Nobody knows the long or short terms effects. Most healthy people will get over the virus without problems. My doctor won’t recommend to me the flu shot even though the government pushes it. It simply boils down to your choice, like any medical procedure or medication does, does the benefits outweigh the risks? And here we don’t know the risks!

    • I don’t know how a Jew can say this!

      If we have learned anything about this disease is that it is so easily transmitted to another person.

      From your tone can I assume that you are not probably not publicly masking or distancing and you are also probably not staying away from people who are doing the same?

      So while you selfishly work on your immune system (whatever that means), you might pick up the virus and transmit it to someone else and so on down the line until someone is dead because of your carelessness and selfishness.

      The lesson of this pandemic is that we are not islands unto ourselves. We belong to a the community of other people. It is those people that you are mechuyav to worry about in addition to yourself.

  5. To: “My take”:

    איפכא מסתברא. Before focusing all your efforts on revving up your immune system – allow me to point out that the “cytokine surge” (which is what kills most Covid patients) is actually an exaggerated immune response.

    Maybe you should rethink whether boosting your immune system is the correct derech to protect yourself against this disease. To date, NOBODY who developed Covid after getting vaccine (remember, it’s not 100% effective) has died. Time to reconsider before it’s too late.

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