An Emergency Physician‘s COVID-19 Vaccination

It began as some far away news report: A novel coronavirus has been identified in a previously unheralded city in China named Wuhan. Press release after press release described this newly identified virus and warned of it reaching the shores of the US. Then suddenly the whole world shut down. Air travel was no longer fun, it was treacherous. Overcrowded Emergency Departments emptied.

 Our hospital debated whether we should we make everyone wear a mask. What would the patients say? Would they stop coming to the hospital for care? We searched for PPE everywhere. We asked, Do we need to wear a gown all the time when there arent even enough gowns? Do we need an N95, a face shield? Could we keep ourselves, our nurses, our technicians, our food services and housekeeping personnel safe?

 And when patients came in, they were very sick. Patient after patient came in unable to breathe and hoping we could save them by placing them on ventilators. We soon found out that those on ventilators were more likely to die than those that were left short of breath and hypoxic.

 On one day I saw 30 patients in rapid fire, we tested 27 of them and 10 came back positive. Was I going to be next? Would I be giving the virus to the next 30 or 150 patients I would see over the next week? Would it ever stop? I thought I was dreaming.

For nine months we all waited for a vaccine, enough time to witness the gestation of a baby, yet historically the blink of an eye. We watched a world tun upside down. Israel closed its doors to foreigners and if you did manage to come back, you had to quarantine for two weeks. I spent 12 weeks in quarantine during the past 9 months.

 Where was my email? A COVID-19 vaccine had been approved two days prior and I had yet to receive my email to schedule my first vaccination. I had spent the last nine months scouring every journal article I could to learn about this virus, how it could be fashioned, and I rejoiced as the results of each stage of experimental trials were filed. Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson didnt just become household names, they were the were now characters in my childrens bedtime stories.

And then I got the email. I was scheduled for my first vaccination. Was I now going to be a superman where COVID particles would just bounce off my nostrils each time I was subject to exposure? Would it be possible now that if one or two droplets did get by my armor, I still would not get sick? When could I come home and hug my family with abandon? When could I treat my patients in the hospital and know that with mask in tow, they were safe as well?

 As I roll up my sleeves to receive the vaccine, I see my hands and think about what an implausible world God has created. On one hand I see that He has allowed the rapid spread of a virus so lethal that over the course of these nine months it has become the leading cause of death in the United States. Yet, on the other hand I see that He has enabled us to develop multiple safe and extraordinarily efficacious vaccines at “warp speed”, four times faster than any vaccine in human history. The Talmud in Berachot (54A) tells us, Just as we thank God for the good, we must thank Him for the bad.

Today, I will recite the blessing of Hatov VaHemaytev.” There are those authorities who feel that this blessing must be limited to situations previously delineated for the blessing, yet others believe, as I do, that a lack of appreciation of the magnitude of this occasion would be blasphemous and this is the ordained vehicle to demonstrate that appreciation. As recorded in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 222), this is the appropriate blessing to be said when witnessing an event that is good for us and good for others. This blessing thanks God simply for being good and doing good. My vaccination today is exceptionally good for me, good for my patients, good for my family and most importantly good for the world and herd immunity.

Thank God for being good.

About the Author
Shamai Grossman, MD, MS, is vice chair for health care quality, Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, associate professor of medicine and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School and visiting professor at Sharrei Tzedek Medical Center. He has semicha from Yeshiva University and a master’s degree in medieval Jewish history. He has authored over 250 peer reviewed publications and 4 books including Ethics in Emergency Medicine.
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