Yolo County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson addresses most common fears behind COVID-19 vaccine anxiety on the “Word to Russia” radio program

Word to Russia

For almost 2 years now, the world has been living in stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And today one of the most discussed topics is whether to vaccinate against COVID or not.  

The Slavic society, like other communities, is divided in their opinions: some are ready to be vaccinated, while others are skeptical about this procedure. We decided to ask questions to those who are NOT ready for vaccination and send these questions and comments to Dr. Aimee Sisson from the Yolo County Public Health Department. And we asked Russian American Media journalist Olga Garicichina to voice frequently asked questions on behalf of the Russian-speaking community about COVID vaccines.

There’s been no long-term testing. The development of vaccines takes multiple years. The fastest vaccine to be made took almost five years to make, but now people are pushing to take one that was made in just a few months. There is no long-term safety data on this. Plus, it is approved only under Emergency Use Authorization, for which there are no therapies acknowledged to be effective for this COVID virus. How are County policy makers re-evaluating therapies now that some therapies are exhibited to be efficacious for the COVID virus?  

These vaccines against covid-19 were made very quickly but that doesn’t mean that corners were cut in the process. They are very safe and effective and the reason why the vaccines were able to be made so quickly is because we already knew a lot about coronavirus from previous outbreaks with viruses called SARS and MERS.  And scientists who studied coronavirus knew about the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus and they knew that that was the protein that needed to be targeted and so the MRNA vaccine technology which is being used in two of the three vaccines that are currently available: the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use this spike protein. So, the technology was developed over the last 20 years or so and we already knew about SARS and MERS therefore we were able to develop a vaccine so quickly.

So even with the emergency use authorization it’s important to note that there were tens of thousands of  people involved in the clinical trials and that there were several months’ worth of data after these people  were vaccinated to determine that the vaccines indeed work to prevent an infection, severe disease,  hospitalization and death from COVID-19. So even though it has emergency use authorization they were extensively studied in clinical trials at hundreds of sites around the world so they have been proven to be safe and effective and it’s important to note for those who are concerned about the emergency use authorization status that one of the vaccines the first one – Pfizer vaccine is expected to have full approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) within the next month. So, the FDA has been looking at the  data, they have six months of follow-up data on the tens of thousands of people who were involved in the  Pfizer trial and they expect to have reviewed all that data and to give the full approval for the Pfizer vaccine by  Labor Day which is the beginning of September.

The inventor of mRNA vaccines, Dr. Robert Malone said on August 7th: “Continuing to push universal vaccination is reasonably likely to drive development of a ‘super-virus’ variant that will be completely resistant to spike antigen-driven vaccine immune responses. Universal vaccination – bad policy based on naive understanding of viral evolution”. How have county policy makers re-evaluated in light of this policy remark (of Doctor Malone)?  

So, every time the corona virus replicates it has the potential to mutate. Its RNA can change and it can mutate into a form that is even more infectious or that might be resistant to the vaccines, so the opposite is actually true from this quote that you provided. So, the longer we have people who are unvaccinated, who have no protection, the more the virus will spread the more it will mutate, the more likely we are to come up with a strain or a variant that our vaccines do not work again so it’s actually important to get everybody or as many people as possible vaccinated so that we can slow the spread of the virus. That the virus does not replicate, it does not mutate and we don’t get new variants. So, I would argue that we need to get as many people as possible vaccinated so that the vaccines do continue to work and the virus does not mutate into a form that’s resistant against the vaccines.

Could you please explain about being unvaccinated and virus mutation. Does it mean that vaccinated people don’t spread the virus and are more resistant to virus mutation?  

When someone is vaccinated against COVID-19 they are much less likely to be infected with the virus in the first place, so the vaccine prepares your immune system so that when you are exposed to the virus your immune system goes on the attack and fights the virus off before it’s able to infect you. So by being vaccinated you’re protected against infection and so if you don’t become infected then your body does not become sort of a breeding ground for the virus and so that’s why we want people to get vaccinated so they don’t get infected in the first place.

There are now over 450,000 VAERS adverse events reports specifically for the COVID shots. Those numbers could be even higher because only 5 to 10% of all adverse effects are reported in the VAERS system. Have county policy makers re-evaluated in light of the number of adverse events being higher than for any other vaccine in History? 

So here in the United States we have something called the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System. And it’s a system where anybody can go in after they’ve had a vaccine and report that they had some sort of symptoms or a bad outcome so that person who goes in and reports could be their doctor or it could be that person themselves. So everything that is in the VAERS system can be seen by the public and it’s not verified so  we’ve seen instances where there have been made up reports that have been put into the system so I think  that’s something to keep in mind is that anyone can report into the system and that the reports are not  verified; at least that the public can see now on the back end of the system the CDC and public health experts  and medical experts are looking at the reports and they’re keeping an eye out for patterns and we’ve actually  seen where there have been some patterns that have been detected with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.  For example, there were six cases of significant blood clots that were enough when the experts saw those  results they said we need to pause use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to make sure that it that it’s safe  so that’s sort of the key point is the scientists on the back end who are looking at the data and look for  patterns to see if there’s anything concerning but when the public looks at it they’re only seeing unverified  reports and so it can look like there’s a lot of bad events that aren’t even related to the vaccine. So, when people put information into the VAERS system it just says someone got the vaccine and then something bad happened. Well, there’s lots of things that happen in our lives where you know one thing precedes another but it doesn’t mean that that first thing caused the second thing. For example, last night I stopped on the way home from work to get a burrito and then I ended up in terrible traffic and it took me over an hour to get home. Now I could conclude that stopping and getting the burrito causes terrible traffic but we know that that’s not true it was just a coincidence and so with a lot of the things that show up in the VAERS system are just a coincidence. Somebody got a vaccine and then you know a few days or weeks later something bad happened but it doesn’t mean that the vaccine caused that bad thing to happen.

According to the CDC data over 95% of all COVID deaths had an average 4 comorbidities. Nearly 80% of COVID hospitalizations were people overweight & obese. Therefore, the actual survival rate, especially in the categories under 50 years old is nearly 99%. Have County policy makers re-evaluated in light of the vulnerability disparity (as shown in CDC data)?  

Yeah, so it’s important to note that in the early days of the COVID pandemic, most of the people who were getting really sick ending up in the hospital and dying were older people and people with a lot of underlying diseases. However, the current COVID crisis is being caused by the delta variant and the delta variant is different from any other form of COVID that we’ve seen before. It’s the most infectious version of COVID so it’s very contagious from one person to another and it also looks like it causes more severe disease  and doctors in hospitals around the United States are seeing something that they’re calling “younger sicker  and quicker” to characterize the patients that are ending up in the hospital now. They’re younger, they’re  getting sicker and they’re getting sicker faster and ending up in the intensive care unit so the data that we  have from the beginning of the pandemic isn’t particularly relevant anymore because of the delta variant has  really changed the rules when it comes to COVID and who’s getting sick.

It’s important to note that even people who don’t die from COVID and who we consider COVID survivors, that doesn’t mean that they returned to normal life. So, there’s something called post COVID syndrome where people can have symptoms for months and even over a year after infection. They have lung function that doesn’t return to normal, they are still short of breath, they’re still having pain. So, just because something doesn’t kill you doesn’t mean that is something that you want to get so it’s best to avoid infection even if that infection isn’t going to kill you and by getting vaccinated, you’re protecting others because you’re not getting infected so you’re not going to transmit the disease to others people who might be older and have multiple medical problems like your grandparents or older relatives. And then the other thing is you know just because something doesn’t kill you doesn’t mean that it’s something you want to experience so there’s people who are spending weeks in the hospital struggling to breathe being put on ventilators and certainly for me that’s not on my bucket list of something that I want to experience, so if I get vaccinated it virtually guarantees that I’m not going to end up in the hospital with COVID.

The primary efficacy endpoint of the clinical trials was mild symptom reduction. The shot was not shown to limit transmission or confer immunity and the CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky admitted that current vaccines don’t stop transmission, or infection, or hospitalizations but they can slightly decrease our chance of hospitalization. Have County policy makers re-evaluated in light of findings (by Walensky)?  

There’s a couple things here I’d like to talk about. You talked about the endpoint of the clinical trials and it being symptom reduction. But the clinical trials actually looked at several different outcomes so they look at any infection, severe disease, ending up in the hospital and death. And we’re also not limited to the data from the clinical trials. There’s millions of Americans who have been vaccinated so we can look at the real world  data to see how well the vaccines are performing and when we do that we see that the vaccines are almost  100% effective in preventing death from COVID-19 and 95% effective in keeping people out of the hospital but  where the vaccines don’t do as well as we would like is in keeping people from getting infected with mild  symptoms or even no symptoms for that there somewhere between 50 and 90% effectiveness depending on  which countries study you look at in which vaccine you look at. But it’s important to note that the people who do get infected even after being vaccinated have mild disease and they don’t end up in the hospital, so no matter which outcome you are looking at, the vaccine is still the best way to protect against COVID-19. In terms of the CDC director’s comments we do know that vaccines are protective against infection but they aren’t perfect. Here in California the data show that people who are unvaccinated are five times more likely to become infected than those who are vaccinated. So the risk is cut into fifths by being vaccinated.  Unfortunately we are now seeing that some of the people who are fully vaccinated do get infected and that those people can transmit the virus to others but it’s really important to remember that in the first place they are much less likely to get infected because they are vaccinated.

What are the legal rights of patients for medical services if they are harmed by a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine?  Vaccines companies are not liable for any injuries. Will those “uninsured,” then fallback onto County Medically Indigent programs, or Medi-Cal programs for medical services? Have County health staff forecast these “new” costs, as a burden to the tax-roll of the county? 

Serious adverse events from the vaccine are very rare that’s been shown in the clinical trials as well as in the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated safely with the three vaccines on the market. That being said however they do happen even though they’re very rare and we do here in the United States have a system to compensate people who have been injured by a vaccine. Because the COVID vaccines are for a pandemic so they are covered by a special program called the Countermeasures Injury Compensation program which is  different from the program that covers other more routine vaccinations in the United states which is the  National Vaccine Injury Compensation program so it’s important to note that although the COVID vaccines  aren’t covered by the usual program they are covered and that anyone who experiences that very rare  outcome of an adverse event from a COVID vaccine is entitled to compensation for their injury and certainly  any medical expenses would also be covered as part of that compensation. And you know we in Yolo County would ensure that anyone who is harmed by a vaccine in that very rare instance would receive the medical help that they needed.

12 out of 13 countries on Johns Hopkins list of the most vaccinated are currently listed by the CDC as  ‘high’ or ‘very high’ COVID-19 travel risk. Very High: Malta, United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Chile, Uruguay, Bahrain, Mongolia | High: Iceland, Qatar, Belgium, Canada, Israel | Low: Singapore. Why does the CDC’s data show that the greatest risk of catching COVID-19 is in the most vaccinated countries in the world? How have county policy makers re-evaluated in light of these lists (compiled by Johns Hopkins)?  

I think it is an anomaly of inconsistent COVID detection resources around the world. So the very countries that have more resources to buy vaccines and vaccinate their citizens are the same countries that have more resources to offer testing for COVID. Those countries have surveillance programs where they’re able to keep an eye on how many people in the community are getting sick so I think you know countries that have fewer resources may not have COVID tests available where they don’t have a great public health system to even know how many people are sick from COVID are the same countries that can’t afford to buy vaccines to vaccinate their public. So I don’t necessarily think that that what is happening this pattern where countries that have higher vaccine rates also have higher COVID rates I think they just also have better data and can afford vaccines so I I think there’s probably a lot of countries in the world that have higher COVID case rates but they don’t even have COVID test to be able to diagnose that people are sick with COVID. So again I think it’s an anomaly of surveillance and countries with more resources have more data.

Recent data from Israel shows that 85% to 90% of the hospitalized patients are fully vaccinated and 95% of the severe patients are vaccinated. How have county policy makers re-evaluated in light of this data (reported from Israel)? Is it that data we need to take in consideration? 

So there’s a couple things here with the Israel data. At first Israel came out and reported that the vaccines were only 39% effective in preventing infection but they were 88% effective in preventing hospitalization and 91% effective in preventing severe disease. That data from Israel is somewhat different from what we’re seeing in other countries that show better effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against infection more like 80 to 90% but in all the countries the general pattern is that the vaccines are highly protective against hospitalization and death. Now the data that you just cited in Israel about a very high percentage of the people who are in the hospitals being vaccinated is something that is sort of a fluke of how the math works when you have a high proportion of your population who are vaccinated. It means that when you do have those rare breakthrough cases and even more rare people who end up in the hospital with severe COVID after being vaccinated, that they are going to be vaccinated people because everybody in the population is vaccinated. So I like to think about the extreme case where 100% of the population is vaccinated but you have a vaccine that’s not 100% effective so you know that some people will still get infected. Every single case in a population that’s 100% vaccinated will be in a fully vaccinated person so it’s not surprising in Israel where you know I think upwards of 80% of the population is vaccinated that the people who are ending up in the hospital are fully vaccinated but they there are way fewer people in the hospital then there would be if there weren’t so many vaccinated people in Israel in the first place.

Twenty-two independent researchers and scientists have subsequently come together to peer-review the RTPCR Test to detect Covid-19 and they revealed at least 10 major scientific flaws at the molecular and methodological level: consequences for false positive results. The review states: “The paper itself already signifies that a large number of false positive results are generated by this test, even under controlled laboratory conditions, making it completely unsuitable as a reliable virus screening method”. The main question is: “How can we trust the current data if the tests are not accurate and even CDC issues a public alert in order to withdraw current PCR test kits?” Here is the quote from CDC website: CDC encourages laboratories to consider adoption of a multiplexed method that can facilitate detection and differentiation of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses. Have County staff done an audit or survey of test kit stock to determine if tests which have lost accreditation are still in local test inventories, so prone to “false positive” scare of the public? Have County staff fully committed to identifying tests which accurately detect and distinguish different virus types?

Let me start by saying a little bit about how the PCR tests work. They detect mRNA from the coronavirus or from another virus and you can have a very small amount of mRNA from the virus and the way the test works is it multiplies that by running in cycles and so it’ll go from you know let’s say two pieces of RNA to four to 8 to 16 to 32 and the tests are able to detect the number of cycles that have to run before you get enough for the test to be positive. Each lab sets its own cut off of what’s going to be considered positive in terms of the number of cycles that have to run. In general the PCR test is very good; it doesn’t detect anything other than the virus that it’s looking for so one of your questions was about telling the COVID virus apart from flu and that’s very easy to do. The RNA of the virus looks nothing alike so the PCR test can easily tell the flu from COVID-19. That’s not a mistake that the PCR test ever makes there are some tests that have  primers so it has the ability to look for both flu and coronavirus but they give very different signals and so  there would never be an issue where somebody has the flu but it shows that they have COVID or the other  way around.

PCR test is able in some cases to detect such small amounts that they aren’t clinically relevant so it might be somebody who’s been infected before but is no longer infectious and the PCR test can’t tell that apart so you may have somebody who’s infected but no longer contagious to anybody else that still has small amounts of the virus in their system and they could come back with a positive PCR test with a very high number of cycles needed to get enough virus to actually detect it and that’s called the cycle threshold value so when that value  gets you know somewhere above 30 that’s where we start seeing people who are testing positive who aren’t  infectious anymore. In Yolo County we’ve worked closely with some of our laboratories including UC Davis and  the Healthy Davis Together testing which is the largest source of testing in Yolo county and healthy Davis  together when they get a PCR test result that has a high cycle threshold which means there wasn’t a lot of  virus in that original sample they run the sample again just to make sure that it really is positive and they will  not if they get 2 results that don’t match they ask the person to get tested again. If both results show a  positive then they’ll say that that person is a positive so that’s the work that we’re doing to make sure that  anyone who’s result says their positive really is positive that they are infected with COVID and that it’s not  something else.

According to the study, published in the well-known Lancet Journal, the absolute risk reduction (that tends to be ignored) is much less impressive than the relative risk reduction (RRR). For all the COVID vaccines ARR is less than 2%. How have county policy makers re-evaluated in light of this study (published in Lancet)? 

We know that the COVID vaccine is the best way for people to protect themselves against the COVID virus. I haven’t read this particular paper in The Lancet but I am familiar with the concepts of absolute risk reduction versus relative risk reduction. I think you know in the instance of COVID everybody is at risk particularly right now in Yolo County we have a daily case rate of 23 per 100,000 residents per day that are infected with  COVID-19 so that qualifies as high case rates. If we were under the blueprint framework we would be in the purple tier. There’s a lot of viruses in the community right now and that virus is the delta variant which is the most infectious form of COVID that we’ve ever seen. You know with previous versions of COVID the average person spreads the virus to two, maybe three other people with the delta variant that the average person who’s infected spreads disease to five to nine other people so it has the potential to grow exponentially very quickly.  We have three vaccines in the United States that work very well to protect people against COVID. These Vaccines reduce your risk at least five times of getting infected. They significantly reduce your risk of ending up in the hospital and virtually eliminate the risk of dying so whether you talk absolute risk reduction or relative risk reduction it’s clear that the vaccines are the best protection that we have against COVID and that’s why I’m strongly recommending that everybody in Yolo County who’s 12 years or older gets vaccinated as soon as they can against the coronavirus.

Do you want to add something at the end? 

I did want to add that if people are interested in getting vaccinated after listening to our conversation that we do have a program in Yolo County where we will come to anybody wherever they are at home, work or at a friend’s house and we will vaccinate you right there seven days a week between the hours of 9:00 AM and 7:00 PM for absolutely no cost. This is all free and if people are worried about their friends and neighbors seeing that they’re getting vaccinated we can show up in a car that is a plain white vehicle it doesn’t say Yolo County, it doesn’t say COVID vaccines anywhere, so you can get vaccinated very discreetly and we now have a phone number for people to call where the phone will be answered by somebody who speaks Russian. And we can schedule that appointment so I wanted to share that phone number, it is 530-908-0721 / 530-908-0721 and it is seven days a week between 9:00 AM and 7:00 PM free vaccine we come to you and we can do it discreetly.

Thank you Dr. Aimee for taking part in our interview and answering the questions from our community.

I want to repeat once again that all the information in this interview is provided only for educational purposes and does not carry any legal or medical advice. I would also like to add that our team has carefully approached the preparation of questions and the search for scientific data for this interview, and everyone who listens to this interview should draw his own conclusions and make an informed decision. I would like to wish all the listeners health. Thanks.

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