I’m not throwing away my shot – and other vaccine adventures

If you are living in Israel, there is bound to be one question, and one question only, that has been consuming your every waking thought: “Is lockdown ending on Friday or Sunday? Or ever?”  

No, sorry. That was last week’s question. 

This week, the question is, “Have I scheduled an appointment for my corona vaccine yet?” Vaccinations are finally available to everyone, and now you can stroll in and get an appointment. It’s nothing short of remarkable because things weren’t always this easy. There was a time when the coronavirus vaccine was not available to all, where the Maccabi app disguised itself as a food delivery app so no one under the age of 65 could book an appointment. So today, before you book your appointment, let’s revisit the extensive two-month history of the vaccine in Israel.

Four score and two months ago, when the coronavirus vaccines first hit our shores, it created little national interest. We had more prevalent things to worry about, such as talk of a 26th lockdown (which would either last a week or a decade, depending on whom you asked), and how no one knew how to pronounce ‘Pfizer.’ The consensus was to wait, and maybe, by the time our age bracket was eligible for the vaccine, we would find out if the ‘P’ in Pfizer was a silent P. 

This went on for a while, but then people started getting vaccinated, and I’m not talking about your great-grandmother and your 112-year-old great-uncle. I’m talking about people who had no right to get vaccinated before you did! These were your co-workers, friends on Facebook and other random individuals. Without warning, these people took over our social media feeds. In my day, posting pictures of yourself with a needle in your arm was considered to be inappropriate and sufficient grounds for arrest, but now, these pictures were everywhere with captions like, ‘ I just got vaccinated! So #blessed! You should all get it!’ 

Meeting them in person afterwards was even worse. They were insufferable.. “I got the vaccine today,” they would announce. “Go ahead! Cough on me! Cough on me!” Doctors reminded those who walked home after the vaccinations to walk on the sidewalk, as the vaccine did not make one immune to being hit by a bus.  

This elitism was not to be tolerated! Naturally, this created an immediate frenzy, which was intensified by the fact that no one had gone outside for anything besides groceries in a month. The vaccine, which previously had been viewed with cautious interest, soon became the most sought-after commodity in the country. It could offer eternal youth and prevent male-pattern baldness. People also started talking about a ‘green passport.’ Nobody agreed on what it was, except that we needed it and only a vaccine could get you one and what if only people with green passports could book flights and shoot, what if the airport would stay closed forever and I’M SORRY IF I’M GETTING A LITTLE WORKED UP, OKAY? 

Even though the Health Minister promised to make the vaccinations available to everybody by March, this did not abate the hysteria. By then, our annoying Facebook friends could discover the elixir of immortal existence or something. No, we needed the vaccine RIGHT NOW. 

Of course, this wasn’t so simple. Vaccines were not yet available to the Highly Susceptible to Peer Pressure age-group. Apparently, the law did not consider the claim “if I see another #blessed picture I’m going to kill someone,” as legitimate grounds for an appointment. The quest for a dose seemed hopeless. 

But then rumors spread about the ‘Extras.’ Everyone knew someone who had heard it from an absolutely credible source that if you showed up to your local friendly socialized medical clinic after hours and loitered around outside, you could get vaccinated. This was a Good Samaritan move because they could not put the extra doses back in the special vaccine fridge after removal (not to be confused with the beer fridge, which was only for the doctors). Overnight, Facebook groups sprouted with the sole purpose of alerting the public to these opportunities. Rumor has it people travelled as far away as Dubai on some of these tip-offs. This proved to be risky. Often, someone would post about extras in a particular location, and the pilgrims would excitedly show up, only to discover that the last of the vaccines had disappeared 1/100000th of a millisecond before they’d arrived. 

 After seeing the hundredth picture on Facebook of someone whom I vaguely knew getting vaccinated, I too joined the craze. So on Day 653 of lockdown, my sister, a friend, and I went to a clinic that we heard might have extra vaccines. The entire experience could not have been more shifty if it tried. For starters, the medical facility did everything possible to dissuade us from showing up by being impossible to find. The vaccination center was in a deserted parking lot four flights below ground. Second, it quickly became clear that we weren’t the only ones who’d received the tipoff. The place was packed, with crowds crammed shoulder to shoulder. (In a nod to social distancing, people respectfully refrained from kicking each other in the shins). The line snaked out the door and continued until it reached Jordan. Folks who kvetch about Israel’s irrecoverable cultural and spiritual divide should have seen the diversity of that group! I saw men and women from every part of the religious spectrum. It served as an inspiring reminder that, regardless of your religious beliefs, waiting around for drugs always brings us together. 

Anyway, we waited in line trying to act natural, (like 85-year-olds who had legitimate appointments), until a harried-looking doctor came out and told us to leave because they had run out of doses. So we obediently went home. 

Ha! Just kidding! We did no such thing. Everybody knew the procedure. This was clearly a trick meant to weed out the uncommitted weaklings. Nobody moved. This continued for another hour until the same doctor reappeared. “Chevra!” He bellowed. “We have no more! We’re locking the doors!”

I exchanged a meaningful glance with the person behind me in line. Did this guy think we were amateurs? We knew that as soon as we’d leave, the doctors would give the vaccines to the people who stayed and congratulate them on their persistence. So we refused to budge. We stayed even after the medical staff locked the gates, turned out the lights and drove away, shaking their heads at us. We might sound crazy, but we’ve only been in line for 74 hours and we know for a FACT that they will be back shortly.

 So, as you effortlessly book your vaccination appointment, let this remind you of the sacrifices it took to get to this point. Take pride in Israel leading the world in vaccination distributions. Remember that there is more to life than just trying to compete with your friends, who are already booking appointments for the Good Hair and Eternal Youth vaccine. 

It’s about feeling #blessed.

About the Author
Tehilla Katz is a first-year student at Bar Ilan University and a 2020-2021 CAMERA on Campus Fellow. She still bluffs her way through Hebrew.
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