Vaccine nation

Did you know? Israel leads the world in percentage of population vaccinated against COVID-19

You know, to be honest, I’ve known this fact about Israel for some time, but I didn’t really appreciate the extent to which it is true until today – when I looked at the data online.

Like many of you, I’m sick and tired of hearing about and reading about COVID-19. To a large extent, I’ve tuned out from COVID-19 news. It’s simply too endless and too depressing. Of course, broadly speaking, I have been following the lock-down and quarantine rules imposed upon my family over the last year, but otherwise I have mostly been trying to live my life as normally as possible. Actual normalcy often seems like no more than a fantasy to me these days, but obsessing over the pandemic is no help – following the news doesn’t grant one any control over the uncontrollable.

This is the first time I have actually written a post about COVID-19. I have been through three lock-downs and two separate quarantines here in Israel, but I have never before been moved to write about any of those experiences. Quite the opposite – I’ve been grimly hoping to simply push through this horrid global insanity.

Anyway, I’m going to write something about it for several reasons.

  1. It turns out that I live in the country, which has, by far, vaccinated the highest percentage of its population against COVID-19, and that deserves my recognition and appreciation.
  2. There are people who oppose vaccination, and I feel that I must take a stand on this, albeit a toothless one.
  3. My fellow local Jerusalemite and friend Dave wrote about it on his blog, leading me to consider doing so myself. (BTW, I agree entirely with everything he wrote on the subject)
  4. I received the first of my two vaccine shots yesterday.

My lived experience

In terms of my lived experience of receiving the first vaccination shot, there’s not much to write, but it goes like this:

Israel has socialized healthcare, and every citizen is a member of one of several major HMO’s. The HMO’s are largely why Israel has been so efficient at distributing vaccines and vaccinating its public. They first began vaccinating the elderly, the sick, healthcare workers, etc., and gradually started reaching out to more and more Israelis.

As a healthy 41-year-old, I received an automated phone call and text message on Tuesday of this week to set up an appointment for COVID-19 vaccination. When I called the following day, they also allowed me to make an appointment for my wife who is five years my junior. Yesterday, we arrived on time, waited in line for half-an-hour or so (maybe more), got vaccinated, waited (as instructed) for 15 minutes, and went home.

Our arms feel slightly sore, but otherwise we are totally fine. Our second vaccination shot has been scheduled for February 11th.

None of this is very interesting, but it shouldn’t be. It should be exactly this mundane and normal to get vaccinated.

A Jewish perspective on getting vaccinated

Since I stand by everything my friend Dave already wrote about why everyone should get vaccinated, I do not feel inclined to rehash any of his thoughts; I think his post on the subject was very excellent. What I would like to do instead is offer a couple of traditional Jewish text sources that inform my thinking on vaccinations in general.

Usually, I include traditional Jewish texts in my ‘ethical will’ entries, but this particular post on vaccination doesn’t quite seem to fit that mold so I’m categorizing it as a regular blog post. Still, I would like to share some very simple thoughts from the perspective of my faith tradition.

Maintaining one’s health

Maimonides (1138-1204) was not only a rabbi, but also a physician; and he wrote the following in his seminal halakhic work, which could not be more clear (‘Mishneh Torah’, ‘Hilchot Deot’ 4:1):

הוֹאִיל וֶהֱיוֹת הַגּוּף בָּרִיא וְשָׁלֵם מִדַּרְכֵי הַשֵּׁם הוּא. שֶׁהֲרֵי אִי אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁיָּבִין אוֹ יֵדַע דָּבָר מִידִיעַת הַבּוֹרֵא וְהוּא חוֹלֶה. לְפִיכָךְ צָרִיךְ לְהַרְחִיק אָדָם עַצְמוֹ מִדְּבָרִים הַמְאַבְּדִין אֶת הַגּוּף. וּלְהַנְהִיג עַצְמוֹ בִּדְבָרִים הַמַּבְרִין וְהַמַּחֲלִימִים. Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God – for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill – therefore, he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger.

Responsibility to community

Vaccination is not only a matter of guarding one’s personal health. It is only effective if the general public is vaccinated.

This following Jewish text, which speaks to that consideration, is such a classic. It comes from Pirkei Avot, which is often called ‘Ethics of the Fathers’ in English, or, more accurately: ‘Chapters of the Fathers’ (2:4):

אַל תִּפְרוֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר… Do not separate yourself from the community…

Simply put

I know as well as anyone that one can cherry pick religious texts to make their point. That’s one of the reasons that I have come to be so skeptical about religion and religious leaders in particular. However, my point here is simple – traditional Jewish sources to support getting vaccinated exist. In fact, scholars and rabbis have written about this quite extensively and brought many more sources than I have.

Tolerance of competing ideas is an aspiration of mine, but I confess that I have very little patience for antivaxxers… I consider anti-vaccination to be fundamentally irresponsible – not only for one’s own health, but also for everyone else’s.

If you have the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19, DO IT.

37 thoughts on “Vaccine nation”

  1. “Tolerance of competing ideas is an aspiration of mine”

    I have really come to take issue with this conception of tolerance. No line seems to be drawn anymore.

    Tolerance should be exercised responsibly and, more importantly, with a watchful eye. It *should* nurture ideas, attitudes and actions which engender the greater good.

    At the same time, it should come down and stomp whatever wicked tendencies appear – such as this most recent one.

    Tolerance without boundaries is nothing good or worth admiring, it’s simply wilful ignorance. It’s turning a blind eye to whatever moral injustices it is afraid to stand up to.

  2. I got my first vaccine this past Friday! I was anxious about it because just 30 days ago I was recovering from CoVid. But after extensive research and observation of co workers I felt good about my decision to move forward now versus later. Interested to stay in touch for the second shot experience.

  3. I have avoided most media on covid after the first few months, for fear of getting too negative, esp as we were anyway in a state of continuous lockdown. It was much more relaxing reading independent experiences on blogs than news which can get biased.

    Owing to the much larger population, I haven’t reached the stage of vaccination yet. I am for vaccination, but as we wait, every now and then some news floats on the effects and side effects of the jab. So it’s good to have first hand experience and feedback like yours David.

  4. Israel’s success in this process is impressive – you get an automated phone call to set up an appointment? Here in Washington state in the US, it’s pathetic by comparison. you need a computer to sign up and get on the waitlist. We are still working to get the 65+ age group vaccinated. My friend who has early-onset Alzheimer’s has no family to help her, and no ability to use a computer, so I will get her signed up. But they don’t make it easy. thank you for the texts you shared.

    1. Thank you for reading. Yes, the situation throughout the 50 United States is somewhat embarrassing in this regard.

      On the other hand, Israel is a small country so it’s relatively easier to do things like this en masse!


  5. ” It is only effective if the general public is vaccinated. ”
    “Do not separate yourself from the community.”

    Thank you for this post, David;
    Shabbat Shalom,

  6. Really good post. I agree with most of it for sure. (I’ve actually written a big long thing on covid myself recently but also included a lot of things I feel are facts in it but then did not have time to link to and verify… so did not yet publish it). I know a number of ant-vaccinators in my neighbourhood (not re: covid necessarily but anti-vaxxing for the deadly childhood diseases as well) — but they rely on herd immunity. My husband and I both feel that of course we must be socially responsible enough to have the recommended childhood vaccines for our own kids so that there are more numbers in the protective herd. Without one, there can be no herd.
    Risks always have to be assessed against prospective benefits, in any situation.

    Always love how you write so clearly!!

      1. Agree…and the situation is different everywhere, for every body. Most of us here won’t even have the option of getting vaccinated until April, if the local news is right…

  7. I know, I read that on the NYT and was pleasantly surprised. I get a good feeling when “developing” nations lead the way on such great news.

  8. Good initiative. We have also started vaccination from 16th, but some people are unnecessarily spreading rumours against inoculation.

    1. That’s unhelpful. We have had some deaths and bad reactions here. Apparently March is set for inoculating Health Care workers and the over 65. We have many anti-vaxxers in Australia already, not inoculating their children against the usual childhood diseases.

      1. The experience may vary. In India, inoculation was started on 16th, but fortunately, we have not come across a single case of reaction or death so far.

  9. I have no qualms about writing about things like this. Bear in mind that a lot of us have been basically locked-down for a year, hearing all sorts of scary stories, and the one thing we look for is firsthand knowledge. It’s the same really, as when a friend of mine published that she had actually caught it. Given that I have been hiding from it for a year, again, it was useful to hear firsthand about somebody’s experience.
    Incidentally, I am leaning toward declining a vaccine. Well, not decline, postpone. Our government is dicking around waiting 12 weeks between shots (the effects of which are unproven) so I am tempted to stay locked down until somebody is able to guarantee a jab following the manufacturer’s spec.

    1. Pete,

      your decision to postpone doesn’t seem irresponsible to me – that seems reasonable, particularly because you’re staying locked down.

      Shabbat shalom,

  10. I think what makes me most uncomfortable about the anti-vaxxer position is that, almost by definition, anti-vaxxers are taking a free ride on the herd immunity everyone else gives them. They also needlessly endanger the the health of those who, for reasons of allergy for example, cannot have a particular vaccine.

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