By COLlive reporter
Alan Kadish, M.D., concurrently serves as president and chief executive officer of the Touro College and University System. Chartered in 1970, Touro has grown to become the largest Jewish-sponsored educational institution in the United States, educating approximately 19,000 students at 32 locations throughout the world.
Kadish was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and educated in yeshivas in New York. He received his M.D. degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and his postdoctoral medical training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a fellow in cardiology.
He is board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease and cardiac electrophysiology. A prominent cardiologist and a distinguished scholar, academic and administrator, Dr. Kadish joined Touro in September 2009 as senior provost and chief operating officer from Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill.
At Northwestern, he served on the faculty and as an administrator for the previous 19 years. He has worked as a teacher, research scholar and scientist, and clinician, holding numerous senior-level administrative positions at Northwestern and the University of Michigan.
A prolific researcher and writer, he has written extensively in his field, authoring more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and contributing to several textbooks. He is married with four children.
Here is his interview with COLlive.com:
Given how quickly it was created, there has been some concern in the community about the safety of the COVID vaccine. Are you and your colleagues at New York Medical College in agreement regarding the vaccine’s safety?
The key factor in determining the safety of a vaccine or any treatment is not how quickly it was developed, but how extensively it’s been tested. The COVID vaccine was developed quickly because some of the science had been in progress for many years for other reasons, and because unprecedented resources were dedicated to vaccine development. Despite that, both of the currently approved vaccines were tested extensively on 30,000 or 40,000 patients, which for clinical trials is a significant number of tests, and the vaccine safety was well-established in those clinical trials. With any therapy, we also look at side effects after the vaccine has been administered. There have been a few rare side effects, including limited allergic reactions, some local pain and potentially – in certain subgroups, such as the very elderly – some more serious reactions. But given the huge number of patients who have received the vaccine, I think we can safely say that the vaccines safety demonstrated in the clinical trials have been replicated in general use.
How do vaccines work and is there a difference between other vaccines and the COVID vaccine?
Vaccines work by stimulating the body’s immune system to react against the virus or bacteria. The body has the ability to distinguish foreign materials and develop antibodies and cells that attack those foreign materials. A vaccine sensitizes the body to a component of the virus as being foreign, and then the body uses its natural defenses to develop immunity. It is true that the COVID vaccines are the result of a new technology. But, if anything, one would expect that the new technology would be very safe, and the reason is the older technologies used either killed viruses, damaged viruses, or other non-toxic viruses to create the immune response. The COVID vaccine just uses genetic material. And while there may be some yet to be uncovered risks, the major risks of older vaccines, which are due to the virus that’s being used itself, don’t exist because there is no virus being used in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Are there any groups that should avoid the vaccine?
Data on pregnant women is limited, but the reason it’s not universally recommended that pregnant women get the vaccine is not because there’s any known harm, but because data are limited. The only group that’s currently recommended to avoid the vaccine are people who have had an allergic reaction to one of the components, generally, which appear in other vaccines. So if there’s a history of an allergic reaction to the first shot that’s severe, or to other vaccines, then that’s a reason to avoid them. But otherwise, there are no known contra-indications. The vaccine also has not been tested in children. And so we need to learn more about that. Right now it’s not recommended, yet, that children under 16 receive the vaccine.
Several years ago, during the Measles outbreak, you were particularly outspoken regarding the need to get vaccinated. Why was that necessary?
There has been some resistance in certain communities, and in certain parts of the Jewish community, to vaccines for reasons that have largely been debunked by science. Because of that resistance, I felt it was important for people to understand what the data really showed, and what should happen with the vaccination, which is that is should be widely adopted to safeguard the individuals getting the vaccine and the community or Tzibur at large.
Is there a difference between the effectiveness or safety of the current COVID vaccines that are available and those that have not yet been released?
The true answer is that we don’t know because we haven’t seen the data on those vaccines that have not been released. We expect to see the data from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the next couple of weeks, but as of now, there’s no way to know how the other vaccines will behave because we don’t have the data.
Can you address why New York City has been slow to roll out vaccines in general, and specifically to Jewish areas?
The vaccine rollout in New York City has been fraught with difficulties. In part, it may be due to complicated guidance from the state and federal government; in part it could have been due to inadequate planning; and certainly part of it is the fact that we just don’t have enough vaccine for everyone who’s currently been approved to have it. For example, in New York State, there’s 7 million people who fall into categories where they can now get the vaccine, but only 250,000 to 300,000 vaccines are available in a week. I haven’t seen any evidence that the dysfunction in vaccine delivery and rollout has been any different in Jewish areas than in other areas.
There are some who believe that masks have no value and even some who say that they make people sick.
That is simply not based on any good science. Science has really shown – although it took a while to accumulate the data – that masks help. And they help not only the people around the person who wears the mask, but also the person who wears the mask, as well. So I can’t comment on rumors or non-fact-based findings, but the data are pretty consistent that masks work and masks are helpful.
When do you expect life to begin returning to normal for everyone and how can people hasten that day?
My best guess is that life returns not to normal, but to close to normal in the fall of 2021. The best thing people can do is to wear masks and stay socially distanced because as we’re rolling out the vaccine, we want to make sure that we don’t have many more infections, which could delay our efforts to get everybody vaccinated by diverting resources to caring for people, not to mention the terrible illnesses that can occur. Despite the rumors that the current outbreak would not result in severe situations, people unfortunately are dying, are getting sick. And although therapies have helped a little bit, this is still a very, very dangerous disease that we need to continue taking seriously.