This past Wednesday night, over 200 participants tuned in live to a special town hall for the Far Rockaway and Five Towns communities to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines. The event was co-hosted by a coalition of local organizations including Bikur Cholim of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns, Hatzalah of the Rockaways and Nassau County, JCCRP, and JOWMA.
Rabbi Tzvi Flaum, Rosh Yeshiva of the Torah Studies Network and Mashgiach Ruchani in Landers College for Women, opened the event with words of Torah. He shared that when the polio vaccine became available, Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l “publically rolled up his sleeve” in order to demonstrate the halachic obligation not only to treat disease but to prevent it as well.
Dr. Michael Oppenheim, an Infectious Disease Specialist and Vice President and Chief Medical Information Officer for Northwell Health, addressed concerns about vaccine safety and long-term effects. Dr. Oppenheim explained that in general vaccine side effects occur within the first few weeks to months after administration, after which point the vaccine matter disappears from the body and doesn’t exert effects. He also suggested that the brief hold on J&J vaccines was actually “the biggest sign of vaccine surveillance success,” noting that the CDC was able to launch a thorough investigation of 6 identified cases of blood clots mere weeks after the vaccine’s release.
Dr. Deborah Lief-Dienstag, a well-known community pediatrician, spoke about vaccination in teenagers. Dr. Dienstag reassured listeners that reports of myocarditis after vaccination are being monitored closely by the CDC and the Israeli government, while also pointing out that “all viruses themselves can cause myocarditis” including COVID-19. She emphasized that young people can “develop serious complications” from COVID-19 or become “long-haulers.” Dr. Dienstag also acknowledged the importance of vaccinating younger people to stop disease transmission to other vulnerable populations.
Dr. Valerie Altmann, OB/GYN at Northwell Health, shared the latest data on COVID-19 infection and vaccination in pregnancy including a study examining the placenta in vaccinated mothers which showed no adverse effects from vaccination. Dr. Altmann recommended vaccination for all women (and their spouses) who may become pregnant in order to protect both the mother and baby from the complications of COVID-19. When asked about effects on fertility, Dr. Altmann said that rumors of infertility after vaccination “boggles the mind” as there is no plausible mechanism connecting the two.
The event was skillfully moderated by Bikur Cholim Director of Special Events and Associate Dean at Touro School of Health Sciences, Rivka Molinsky, PhD. Other topics discussed during the town hall include alternative treatments, antibodies, herd immunity and the new myth of “vaccine shedding”. The conference was recorded and is available at www.vaxfacts.live.
By Henya Wald