Letter to the Editor: Concerns about Dr. Kiessling’s Letter Asking if the Pandemic is Over in Bedford

~ Submitted by Nancy Wolk

I am writing to express my concerns about Dr. Kiessling’s letter “Is the Covid19 Pandemic Over in Bedford?” [Opinion Editor’s Note: Kiessling holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry/Biophysics.]

While Dr. Kiessling’s statement is intended to be shocking, it’s also extremely misleading and quite frankly, a dangerous stance for a Board of Health member to take.
We’ve been very fortunate in Bedford. More than half of the town has chosen to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. We are also seeing breakthrough cases, as expected since no vaccine is 100% effective. Unfortunately, we’re seeing overconfident predictions based on bad statistics.

For example, Dr. Kiessling states:”… vaccination of more than 71% of eligible Bedford residents mark the end of the pandemic in our community.” The key word here is eligible. The population of Bedford MA is 14,383 (source: US Census, April 1, 2020). In addition, 25% of this number is under the age of 18. Assuming there’s an even distribution across ages 0-18, this would remove 2,193 people from the eligibility pool. That 71% is out of 12,190 or 8,655 people in Bedford. This is just over 60% of Bedford residents vaccinated, much lower than the 71% she suggests. Additionally, epidemiologists have agreed that the increased transmission rate of the delta variant means that greater than 80-90% vaccination rates are needed to reach protective herd immunity.

Dr. Kiessling also claims: “Vaccination status is known for 91 of the 134 positive tests of Bedford residents 12 and over from August 2 through October 16.  Of those, 78 (86%) were vaccinated.”  Her statistics are misleading. 78 out of 134 is 68%, not 86%.  By excluding those with unknown status, she is biasing the data to fit her argument, particularly since people who are vaccinated are far more likely to share their vaccination status with the town.

When the Board of Health instituted the mask mandate, they included clear metrics for removing the requirement – when Middlesex County does not show “High” transmission rates for 4 consecutive weeks – a benchmark we have not managed to reach for even one week.

Looking at the overall death and infection rates of Middlesex County also doesn’t support Dr. Kiessling’s statement: Middlesex is seeing a rise of cases in the 7 Day Moving Averages, while we are seeing a sharp decrease in deaths.

The great news is that the number of deaths are down as she said, but we are nowhere near the low infection rates of the summers. In fact, the data indicate that we need to be vigilant to not have such a high increase that we had last year. Hopefully, the vaccines will help keep that number lower. The same page shows that hospitalizations are up in our county and ICU beds are filling again with covid patients.

Despite her claim that the pandemic is over, Dr. Kiessling voted in favor of extending the mask mandate. To do one thing as a member of the Board of Health and then to turn around and tell people the opposite is irresponsible.  Why even make this claim in the Bedford Citizen, where people can’t point out the errors in her data, instead of working it through in public meetings? Is she trying to sway public opinion as a tool to browbeat her fellow board members? She’s enabling people to use her word as a way to oppose the very mandate she supported with her vote. I find this dangerous as people are continuing to spread disinformation on the Bedford Citizen’s Facebook post. The comments in her Op-Ed on Facebook have already become a hotbed of misinformation. False claims of vaccinated people having the same rates of infection as unvaccinated and claims of “paper masks do nothing” are continuing to be spread via Bedford Citizen letters.

I know many people with PhDs in engineering and science. I would never take my car to one of them. I would rather take it to an expert, a mechanic who has studied cars in great detail and has the most up-to-date information about them. I find that Dr. Kiessling, a Ph.D. in biochemistry, not medicine, epidemiology, or public health, is being seen as somehow more experienced than national experts or her fellow Board of Health members – in spite of their years of experience and their own advanced degrees. She’s intelligent, but this is not her field of expertise. The vast majority of epidemiologists are recommending masking indoors as we head towards winter 2021. We should be listening to the experts.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you, Nancy. While I respect Dr. Kiessling’s credentials and career achievements, I agree that the perspective of someone in the fields of pandemic expertise would be more valuable to the general public. I believe that those who serve on ALL town committees should represent a balanced viewpoint and should voice their opinions in the appropriate forum – not in the form of a letter with apparently inaccurate and misleading information.

  2. Nancy, Thanks for taking the time to clarify and share the issue in such a reasonable and scientific way. What is wrong with Dr. Kiessling that she continues to promote her harmful theories? Why is she still on the Board of Health, and why are you not?

  3. I find letters like this very distubing. We are very fortunate to have such a brilliant scientist serving on our Board of Health who has been presenting facts and scietific data about the Covid virus since it very beginning. Ann Kiessling also established the first Covid testing program in our town. She has worked tirelessly to point out a side to these discussions that that we all need to hear. The people who are attacking her ignore all the great work she has done pointing out Bedford health issues over many years and pay no attention to the valid points she is making. In some cases they are downright disrespectful. Thank you Ann for all your tireless efforts.

  4. 🙌 for the astute analysis. Mask mandates are especially important for close contact services, such as hair and nail salons, massage parlors and more.

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