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September 24, 2021

8/3/2021 3:21:00 PM
Respons to last weeks COVID letter

Dear Editor;
I would like to respond to a letter from last week that contained some interesting assertions regarding Covid-19 and the vaccination program. A vaccine is a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against disease. All the available Covid vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, J&J clearly meet the definition of vaccine.
Vaccines are approved by a careful process that can be pretty long and involved. It involves three phases. In phase one, a small number of people are given a vaccine to see if they have side effects. In phase two, a larger number of people are given the vaccine and assessed for safety. In phase three trials, hundreds to thousands of people are given the shot and watched for safety and effectiveness at preventing illness.
Vaccines were made possible by many years of basic scientific research. The DNA sequence of Covid-19 was figured out very early in the pandemic and made available free and worldwide for vaccine scientists to use.
Knowing that these new technologies based on our understanding of viruses existed, the Trump administration invested a huge amount of money in companies that were gearing up to make vaccines. They came up with several different approaches to vaccination that worked well.
Let's focus on the Moderna vaccine, because that is the one that I received this spring. It, as well as the Pfizer vaccine, is referred to as an mRNA vaccine.
Researchers were able to identify the structure of a protein on the surface of the virus, and to figure out how to instruct a person's immune cells to make an antibody against this protein. They were able to give this instruction using mRNA, or messenger RNA. This is the substance that gives instructions to the immune systems cells for manufacture of proteins, in this case antibodies protective against Covid-19. After mRNA delivers its instructions to the cell, it is broken down. It does not enter the cell nucleus or change the DNA, which is the spot where your genetic makeup resides.
Moderna's phase 3 trial was analyzed in November of 2020, seven weeks after 30,000 individuals got their second dose of the trial vaccine. Half of the group got the vaccine and half got placebo, without knowing who was who. This is referred to as a double blind placebo controlled trial. It was found that there were 90 cases of Covid infection in the placebo group and only 5 cases in the vaccine group, indicating over 90 percent effectiveness.
There were common expected side effects, like muscle aches and low grade fever. These are expected signs that a person is mounting a good immune response. I can attest to that, having spent the day after my second shot feeling warm and achy.
Because of the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, and the vast number of people seriously ill and dying of Covid, the FDA decided to approve the vaccine under emergency use guidelines. This decision, however, was not a shot in the dark. 30,000 patients had already received the shots and it was judged to be safe and effective.
Today we have the benefit of looking back and seeing that 321 million doses of Moderna vaccine have been given. The results of the initial phase three trial have held up. It appears to be very safe and effective in preventing Covid infections. I believe that final approval of the vaccine by the FDA is simply a matter of time and finishing the paperwork.
There is a vaccine side effect reporting program, VAERS, at the CDC. Any serious symptoms and deaths after vaccination are reported. There have been reports of people with serious conditions that may be attributable to vaccination, but the incidence is very small. The benefit of vaccination is that if you have had the shot your are extremely unlikely to get serious Covid infection.
We now have the odd dilemma of having effective vaccines and at the same time a significant number of people who do not want to get vaccinated for a number of reasons. If you are waiting for full FDA approval, you can be assured that with so many millions of doses given, if there was a safety issue, any problems would be evident by now.
It is natural for mutant strains of virus to develop, and the longer the pandemic lasts and the more people that are infected, the more likely it is that other strains will evolve.
The Delta variant of Covid-19 is becoming the most common strain in the country because it is so much more contagious. People with this variant have 1000 times the viral load in their membranes as those with previous strains, and thus are much more likely to spread it with casual contact.
The surge of cases going on right now is among the unvaccinated. Those of you who have had the shot are protected. If you have not gotten vaccinated, now is the time. With the new strain circulating it is only a matter of time before we have increased sickness and death unless we get most of our folks protected.
In Iowa County we have done pretty well in getting older citizens vaccinated, but overall only 58 percent of us have gotten a vaccine. This is generally considered not a high enough percentage to protect us all from continued spread of the virus.
If you have not gotten the vaccine, please strongly consider doing so. If you decide not to get vaccinated, PLEASE wear a mask in public to protect yourself and those around you who are still susceptible. Either way your friends, families, and neighbors will thank you for your concern, and you will be doing your civic duty. Your health care workers will thank you as well. We can't forget the sacrifices that they have made during this crisis.
Anyone who checks on the internet looking for news about Covid is bound to run into misinformation. Fear and distrust spread like wildfire, and those who push it often speak the loudest. This is a time to look to our experts for guidance, and to pull together as a country so that we can get past this pandemic and continue to live and work together safely.
There are plenty of sources of good sound information on this topic. I would suggest talking to your doctor if you have questions or concerns. is a website with great information on all these topics. There you will find up to date and reliable information.
My concern has always been the health of the community. Thank you.
Paul Biere
Dodgeville, WI

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