Op-Ed: The Facts About COVID-19 Vaccines

By Dr. James W. Lederer Jr. Guest Column
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Like many across the country, I was thrilled when the FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the end of August. Full approval affirms that the Pfizer vaccine is safe, effective, and has met the rigorous standards required by the FDA. This represents a light in the long tunnel of the pandemic, and it fills me with a great sense of optimism for the future health and safety of our community.
Despite this good news, the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread around the country. We know it can infect individuals who are vaccinated, however vaccinated people are much less likely to experience serious illness or be hospitalized than unvaccinated people. Cases are rising across Massachusetts, mostly in unvaccinated individuals. Here in the Berkshires, hospitalizations remain relatively low in comparison to earlier in the pandemic. This is in part thanks to our high vaccination rate, with 70 percent of eligible individuals in the county fully vaccinated.
I recognize that many of you still have questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines. Over the last 18 months, publicly available scientific information about COVID-19 and its vaccines has changed rapidly. As the chief medical officer of Berkshire Health Systems, I believe that everyone should have access to the important information needed to make informed decisions about their health. Therefore, I wanted to share some data.
There are three different COVID-19 vaccines available: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J).
The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, a technology that has been in development for the last 30 years. mRNA is a strand of code interpreted by your cells to produce a protein found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. This triggers an immune response in your body. Your immune system retains a "memory" of these proteins, so when your body encounters this protein again, it will attack and destroy any cells with the protein present.
The J&J vaccine uses a different method. This vaccine contains a harmless virus called a vector. The vector contains DNA that codes for the protein present on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. When the vector encounters your cells, it instructs them how to make the protein, which triggers an immune response.
Like the mRNA vaccine, your body will remember these proteins and attack them if it encounters them again.
Regardless of which vaccine you get, your body breaks down the components of the vaccine within a few days. None of the vaccines have the ability of modify your DNA, and you can't become infected with COVID-19 from the vaccines. The side effects experienced after getting a vaccine are caused by the body's immune response and are evidence that the vaccines are working.
All three vaccines were initially given emergency use authorization by the FDA after undergoing rigorous testing with tens of thousands of people. In Massachusetts, over 5 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, of which 4.5 million are fully vaccinated. Since the introduction of the vaccines, robust monitoring programs have been in place to address safety concerns. So far, there have been no reported long-term side effects associated with COVID-19 vaccines.
In contrast, individuals who become sick with COVID-19 can experience symptoms long after their illness is over. While COVID-19 presents primarily as a disease of the respiratory system, it can have effects on many different parts of the body, including the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, and the gastrointestinal system. This can lead to chronic conditions or loss of function.
There have been several studies that show the negative effects of COVID-19 infection on the reproductive systems of both men and women. We have seen that unvaccinated pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and experience fetal loss or stillbirth following a COVID-19 infection than pregnant women who have been vaccinated.
The vaccines are the most effective way of protecting our loved ones and preventing serious illness, long-term side effects, and death caused by COVID-19. Children under the age of 12 can't get vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to potential infection. To keep our community healthy and safe, we must all do our part.
I hope that you find these data compelling and will get your vaccine in the coming weeks if you haven't already. Berkshire Health Systems operates vaccine clinics around the county. Our locations in Pittsfield and North Adams are open for walk-ins seven days a week from 8:30 am to 4 pm. In Great Barrington, you can get a vaccine at Fairview Hospital Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. by calling to make
an appointment. Pfizer doses are available at all three sites daily. The BMC Urgent Care Center in Pittsfield is also offering vaccines until 7:30 p.m. if you need to get your dose after testing center hours.
You can make an appointment by calling the COVID-19 Hotline at (855) 262-5465. You can also call the hotline to ask any questions and speak with a trained medical professional.
Each of us must do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, practicing good hand hygiene, social distancing where possible, and getting vaccinated. I encourage you to talk to your doctors; visit data-backed sources for information such as the CDC, FDA, and WHO; or call the hotline if you have concerns. Together, we can keep our Berkshire community safe.
Dr. James W. Lederer Jr. is the chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Berkshire Health Systems. He has more than 20 years of experience in leading innovative, patient-focused, high-quality care initiatives. Dr. Lederer received his medical degree from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and completed his residency in Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee-Memphis. He was fellowship trained in infectious diseases at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and at the University of Tennessee-Memphis. Dr. Lederer is board certified in internal medicine and adult infectious diseases. This op-ed was previously published in The Berkshire Eagle. 


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Pittsfield Continues in the Red Zone for COVID-19

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Just over a week after the city reached the "red" zone for COVID-19, numbers continue to rise.

Interim Director of Public Health Andy Cambi told the Board of Health on Wednesday that the city is no exception to the surge that has been happening nationwide, statewide, and countywide.

Pittsfield's positivity rate is currently around 7, two percent higher than the metric on November 19 that put the city in the red classification for high risk of transmission.

The average case rate has gone up to 62.3 cases per 100,000, which has gone up to ten cases from November 22.

Last Tuesday, Mayor Linda Tyer addressed the public about the surge in a press release and Cambi did the same during a COVID-19 update to the City Council. Tyer also rallied the COVID-19 Task Force the same day to discuss the public health data.

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