Shira Pasternak Be'eri
Living and loving in Jerusalem
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I am not throwing away my shot

Still debating? Like you, I’m worried about the unknown dangers of the COVID vaccine. But I’m more worried about the dangers of getting COVID-19
An Israeli medical worker holds a coronavirus vaccination, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Israeli medical worker holds a coronavirus vaccination, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

For the last week, my Facebook feed has been full of people who have added an “I’m getting vaccinated” frame to their profile pictures. For many of them, it’s a statement of intent. For me, it’s a statement of fact: I’m getting the COVID vaccine tomorrow.

As a member of an at-risk population in a small country that had the foresight to buy a large number of vaccinations, I have been blessed with the opportunity to take a step toward protection from the symptoms and fatality of COVID-19 – for me, for my loved ones, and for all those around me. And I was lucky enough to get an appointment from my HMO quickly.

Am I worried? Absolutely. It’s no simple matter to be injected with a new kind of vaccine that has not yet been studied in humans over time.

Like you, I have heard that two of the 44,000 people who received the vaccine in the Pfizer trial died. But I understand that it was not from the vaccine and was within the statistical norm for a group that size, and that four people died who received the placebo.

Like you, I am astounded that it has been possible to develop not one, but two approved vaccines in the span of just 11 months, with more on the way. But I have read enough to understand the unique combination of factors that collapsed a process that usually takes years, and must trust the regulatory bodies that gave the vaccines the green light.

Like you, I’m worried about the unknown dangers of the COVID vaccine. But I’m more worried about the dangers of getting COVID-19 – both for myself and for society at large. And only if a large percentage of the population is immune will it be possible for us to eradicate COVID and restart communal life.

Are you still debating? Here’s why I’m taking the plunge:

I’m getting the vaccine because of the cautionary tale taught by my cousin, who died of COVID-19 when she still had more books to write, and by the long haulers who are still suffering months after the disease has passed.

I’m getting the vaccine for our healthcare workers on the frontlines, who have worked endless hours, risked their lives caring for COVID patients, and danced with joy when ventilated patients were finally released home. I’m getting it to protect them, so that the number of patients they must care for dwindles.

I’m getting the vaccine for my adult kids so that we can go back to hugging and ditch the disinfectant. I want to resume looking after them rather than having them protect us, and can’t wait for them to be able to stay for a whole weekend rather than spend a meal with us outside in the blazing sun or drizzling rain.

I’m getting the vaccine for my grandson, the bundle of joy that graced our lives a year and a half ago. I want to be able to see him for more than an hour a week, to read him a book without my words being muffled by a mask, to have him sit in my lap without fear of the germs he may be carrying.

I’m getting the vaccine for the falafel seller who sobbed because he could no longer provide food for his children, for the shoe store owner who gave away all his shoes because he could no longer afford to sell them, and for all those who are unemployed and on unpaid leave. The more of us who get vaccinated, the less need there will be for economically crippling lockdowns.

I’m getting the vaccine for the world of culture. For the opera singers who have no money for food, for the pop stars relegated to making television commercials, for the sound technicians who can’t pay their rent, for the members of the Philharmonic who play to empty concert halls. I’m doing my part to protect the arts and to become a member of the audience again.

I’m getting the vaccine for young children, who are being affected by COVID both physically and emotionally. I’m getting it for the teens whose educational and social lives have been disrupted, and for the college students who are learning on Zoom. I’m getting it for the medical students who are missing out on clinical rotations and content that they will never be able to make up. Ending this pandemic will enable them to restart their formative years and their preparations for their future.

I’m getting the vaccine for the babies in my husband’s hospital, some of whom were born into the pandemic and have never seen a smile because the adults who care for them are all wearing masks. My vaccination will help bring smiles into their lives.

I’m getting the vaccine for travel – for the simple act of crossing town by bus or going to another city by train. I’m getting it so I can visit my mother abroad and so that she can fly to visit her daughters. I’m doing it for the promise of the family vacation we canceled last summer, in the hope that it will be possible sometime in the future.

I’m getting the vaccine for the couples who want to marry surrounded by more than a handful of family and friends, and for the mourners who want to gather together to pay their last respects. I’m getting it for the singles who experience profound isolation each time the world shuts down. I’m getting it for a world in which we long to be able to join together in joy and sorrow.

I’m getting the vaccine for the houses of worship, long shuttered and desolate, and for the nonprofit organizations struggling to be able to do good.

I’m getting the vaccine because I’m part of a tradition that teaches us to prevent danger, that demands we save life, and that instructs us to love our neighbors.

I’m getting the vaccine because I am a part of a global community in which we are all dependent on each other and our actions affect each other. I’m getting the vaccine for all those who can’t; the less COVID there is around, the safer they will be.

And when I get the vaccine, it will be with a heart full of gratitude to the trial volunteers, who rolled up their sleeves and took the greatest risk of all. It will be with a sense of wonder at what can be achieved when the world joins together, channels resources, and shares information to achieve a common cause. And it will be with a prayer that the world will band together to make the vaccine available to the poor and the weak, and that enough people will agree to receive it to stop this blight.

Protecting you is one of the reasons why I am not throwing away my shot.

Please don’t throw away yours.

About the Author
Shira Pasternak Be'eri is a Jerusalem-based editor and translator. She is married to Leonard (aka Eliezer) and is the proud mom of three boys, two of whom are soldiers in the IDF. Born and raised in New York, she has been living in Israel since 1982. And yes, she is Velvel Pasternak's daughter.
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