COVID-19 Vaccine Update: Part 2 | Mendel Singer, PhD MPH

In Part 1, I discussed the difficulty of knowing the truth about COVID issues when the subject has been so heavily politicized that it is hard to find unbiased sources of information. I also cited some of the Gedolim who have ruled that getting vaccinated is either strongly recommended or an actual chiyuv.

In trying to assess whether a vaccine is effective, we have to define effective. In general, these are the potential benefits of a vaccine:

  1. Reduce severity of disease. This leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths. This alone can help us return to normal.
  2. Reduce the number of cases with symptoms. This usually comes with a larger reduction in severe cases.
  3. Reduce the number of people who can pass the disease to others. A vaccine whose only benefit is to prevent infections in people who would otherwise have been infected without symptoms would still reduce transmission.
  4. If we can crush the virus through vaccination and COVID-induced immunity, we might be able to prevent a mutation that eludes this immunity.

How are the vaccines doing in practice? Fortunately, countries with socialized medicine tend to have good data, available quickly. About 3 weeks ago, the Israeli Health Ministry released data for people who were fully immunized (more than one week past the 2nd dose of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine). There were 63 cases out of 428,000 people. This was consistent with the 95% reduction in infections found in the clinical trials. More recently, Maccabi, one of 4 Israeli HMOs (kupot), reported 93% effectiveness, and among those vaccinated who still got infected, less than 3% were hospitalized even though the bulk of the people who had received the 2nd dose were elderly. This is especially good news for senior Haredim who have died from COVID-19 at almost 4 times the rate of other seniors. Due to vaccinations in Israel, less than 20% of hospitalized COVID patients are elderly, with more unvaccinated patients in their 30s on ventilators. In the UK, with about 7 million doses given, using both mRNA vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna), the safety results are remarkable. About 1 in 70,000 had a severe allergic reaction. These were in people with a history of severe allergic reactions. None of them died. The 1 in 100,000 cases of Bell’s Palsy (temporary facial paralysis or weakness) occurred at the usual rate found in the general population. With about 50 million doses given in the US, no new rare side-effects have occurred.

What about the new variants? The UK variant is far more transmissible, but immunity from vaccines or prior COVID is effective. The South African variant is more concerning. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines seem to be highly effective against it. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine (not yet approved in the US) is much less effective overall, but still highly effective in reducing severe cases. More concerning is that we are seeing people who had COVID get reinfected with this new South African variant, including very severe cases. Reinfection is now believed to be part of the reason for the uptick in cases in South Africa. This variant is in the US, but few cases so far. So many people in Lakewood who had COVID may again be at risk if/when this South African variant spreads. Due to these two new variants, there are calls for more protective measures. Being a public health professional, I tend to focus on what is achievable. It is like the mussar approach to self-improvement, start small. Whatever you’re doing now, consider doing a bit more for the safety of yourself and others. If you won’t wear a mask, consider wearing a face shield. Or limit how long you spend in crowded areas. Be more careful at weddings, but not less happy. Every little bit helps, and of course, we want to keep the schools open.

B’ezras Hashem, in the next installment I will review how the vaccines were developed so quickly (besides the obvious yad Hashem), and various concerns people have about it.

One warning. Imagine someone who has never studied in yeshiva, trying to make a mockery of Torah Jews. They can quote all kinds of statements from the Gemara that sound odd – if taken out of context, without knowledge of klalim or related sugyos, not knowing standard terms or principles of learning. They don’t have the foundation to understand, but to people looking to find a problem with unseren, this will be all the proof they need. This is what is happening with COVID. Lots of public data and transparency from the CDC means a lot of people who aren’t used to this kind of data and don’t know what it means, or the terms or the context, will misinterpret it. They will see something that to their untrained eye fits the narrative they believe and make astounding claims. Don’t fall for it. And yes, all the politicians who did things “in the name of science”, when they were actually ignoring the experts, didn’t help.

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. Dr. Cofsky told me something beautiful yesterday. We must Daven that these new variants don’t effect us at all and thereby the Lakewood physicians look like fools. Nonetheless, one of the merits we may need to escape the new variant and stop the current one is to mask up and vaccinate, fulfilling “V’nishmartem Meod L’nafshoseichem” and “V’Ahavta L’reachah Camochah.” I may not be able to attend your Simchah, but by masking I am showing my care and concern for you now in the way Hashem wants during this difficult time.

  2. There are safe and effective options for preventing and treating covid. The vaccine’s long term effects are still unknown. If the medical world would be honest about what the treatments are we could all go back to normal tomorrow without masks. We could treat and prevent with HCQ and ivermectin as well as other medications. That’s not to mention the natural methods that are also effective but not widely accepted by the medical mainstream. Israel is doing trials on other medications that appear to be very effective so far. You do not have to be part of this experiment. You have options.

  3. BS”D
    Thank you Safe Options.
    Speaking of the science, are public health professionals telling us that a person is whichever “gender” s/he believes himself/herself to be, regardless of his or her anatomy and chromosomes?

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