On Tuesday evening, January 5, PUAH live-streamed an extraordinary webinar that felt like a clear message straight from Hashem. Some of us are nervous and unsure about the vaccine for COVID-19. Various reports have frightened us. This evidence-based amazing webinar, with two medical expert speakers, removed the doubts and brought clarity and direction.
Rabbi Elan Segelman, Rabbinic Director of PUAH and Rav of Kehilas Torah Temima, moderated the event. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, Associate Rabbi of the Young Israel of Woodmere, and Chair of the Department of Medicine (and Chief of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiologist), Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital, shared his opinion as a rabbi and as an expert physician.
He pointed out that vaccines have been around for a long period of time. It is a halachic requirement in many situations to take vaccines. According to the Shulchan Aruch, one has an obligation to take care of his health and his life. The Torah teaches us that we may not stand idly by the blood of our brother. We are forbidden to do nothing and watch our brother suffer hurt or death. “It is a medical imperative to tell everyone how life-saving this vaccine is,” he stated. Jewish law says you have to listen to the most expert medical opinions.
“This vaccine is the greatest gift G-d could give us. It will save hundreds of thousands of lives.” He lamented how we have seen such terrible destruction and there are more deaths now than last spring. The ICU units are filled in many parts of the country. Already in Israel over one million people have been vaccinated. He added that the g’dolei ha’dor have said to vaccinate.
Next, Dr. Eve Feinberg, Medical Director for Northwestern Fertility & Reproductive Medicine, member of the ASRM COVID-19 Task Force and the ASRM/ESHRE/IFFS Joint Task Force for the COVID-19 pandemic, explained details about the vaccine. Many vaccines have a dead virus and in pregnancy or pre-pregnancy you don’t want to expose the fetus to the virus. It is novel that this new vaccine does not contain the virus. In this vaccine, the mRNA message is delivered to the cells in the body and the body then creates its own immune system antibodies to stop the virus. There is no risk after receiving this vaccine of developing COVID-19 or of getting a positive on a COVID test.
Rabbi Dr. Glatt shared that there are Chinese and Russian vaccines. For now, in the United States, the mRNA vaccines are unbelievably good. They have 95% efficacy. The side effects are mostly just localized. The vaccine is very safe. He stressed, “Nobody contracts the virus if they are vaccinated. It is medically impossible to contract COVID-19 from this vaccine!”
Rabbi Segelman shared questions that were emailed. “Many are very anxious and worried that the clinical trials didn’t include pregnant women, and they are worried about sterility from the vaccine.”
Dr. Feinberg addressed this concern. “Trials usually do not include pregnant women. However, some were inadvertently included and the data is favorable regarding their outcome from the vaccine. She stressed, “It is biologically not plausible that the vaccine would have a negative impact on pregnancy.”
She went on to explain that the risk of COVID-19 in pregnancy has devastating effects. Pregnant women with COVID-19 require higher rates of ventilators and ICU admission. There is also a higher incidence of blood clots with COVID-19.
Weighing the facts known about COVID-19 versus the facts known about the vaccine, it’s hands down in favor of the vaccine. She added that claims of sterility are unfounded. COVID is the biggest culprit in regard to sterility in males.
She explained that when you receive the vaccine, you pass antibodies to your baby. Nursing will also provide antibodies from the vaccine for the baby.
Rabbi Dr. Glatt imparted: “We have an obligation to protect life, especially an unborn baby, and this trumps any theory to not take the vaccine. Take the vaccine to protect your children.”
Rabbi Segelman then shared another emailed question. Are there any risks of the vaccine for a child or a nursing baby? Rabbi Dr. Glatt responded that there are no studies in that population. The Moderna vaccine is recommended for ages 18 and up and the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for ages 16 and up. “Scientific evidence does not yet say it is safe to give it to children.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt shared that “We want to get everyone in the USA and the world vaccinated. COVID-19 won’t go away with just masking and social distancing. The way to get back to normal from a halachic and medical point of view is to take the vaccine.” He then shared that the greatest sages of our time, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Gershon Edelstein, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Dovid Cohen, and Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, all say to listen to the medical experts of your time, which means to take the vaccine. “There is no reputable medical source or rabbinic sources not to take it.” He shared that the social media anti-vaccination information is false. He emphasized, “The vaccine is proven to be safe. It is a matter of pikuach nefesh across the United States and the world.”
There is no more room in the ICUs. He also shared that actually more people during the trials died in the placebo group than in the vaccine group.
When asked about a supposed video showing Rav Kanievsky saying not to take the vaccine, Rabbi Dr. Glatt said we have a handwritten letter from Rav Kanievsky that that was false. He said it was a manipulated film. Respected officials said that Rav Chaim said to take the vaccine.
Rabbi Segelman shared another question regarding the time in pregnancy that one takes the vaccine. Is it better to wait until later in the pregnancy? Dr. Feinberg responded that you should not wait. The risk of getting COVID means you should vaccinate as soon as possible. Don’t wait until a later trimester. She reiterated that the vaccine does not go to the fetus. The mom has the antibodies to fight COVID from the vaccine. She urges pregnant women to vaccinate as soon as they can. The same applies for women trying to conceive or those undergoing fertility treatments. “Go ahead and vaccinate.” She said there are no unsafe problems for fertility from the vaccine.
Rabbi Dr. Glatt shared that all the vaccines for COVID-19 will be efficacious and safe. The mRNA technology we have now will hopefully be applied to other illnesses and revolutionize vaccines.
He shared that in two totally independent studies – one with Moderna and one with Pfizer – there were 40,000 people and half received the vaccine and half received a placebo. The group was from a diverse population and age groups. The FDA worked with the companies to make perfect trials. This was unusual to have the government working with the companies. He said that “Operation Warp Speed was the most amazing thing we could have done.” Both sides came up with the same results and same safety profile. They had 94.1% and 95% efficacy. “G-d through His kindness and mercy let us do it.” He’s saying are you going to look a gift horse in the mouth?
People should realize that no one cut corners here in these vaccine trials. The companies started manufacturing it before they had data if it worked. It went through vigorous review processes in all phases. No step was skipped. “We should make a brachah on it.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt concluded that “We should realize as Jews and physicians that we are obligated to save lives and protect lives. This vaccine offers this to us.” He imparted, “I cannot stress enough that this is lifesaving. It is an imperative of Jewish law to save all the people in the world.” When we take it, we are helping others and keeping ourselves healthy.
Dr. Feinberg concluded that it’s important and necessary to get the vaccine to as many people as we can. It is the key to the control of the coronavirus and getting back to normal. “The only way is universal vaccination.”
Rabbi Segelman thanked the presenters for educating and empowering the listeners to make the most appropriate medical and halachic decision. He closed the presentation by reminding everyone to consult with his or her personal doctor and rabbi to determine the best course of action for them.
By Susie Garber