There is one vaccine out now, and a second just about ready to be shipped.
What is that sound that I hear, that almost indistinguishable silvery tinkling from a far distance? The one that seems to come with that tiny flash of rosy light? Wait? What? Can it possibly be hope?
Well, yes, I do believe it is.
Those wafts of what looks like fog? They’re dry ice! And if smoke means fire, then dry ice means vaccines!
We — those of us who are healthy enough, of course, and that is an important caveat — can get vaccinated as soon as we get to the top of the list. Until then, we have to wait, as patiently as we can, hiding our forced smiles behind our masks as we try to figure out who will go before we can and who will have to wait even longer than we will.
My very dear friend Marilyn Steinthal was vaccinated in July. She works for a major hospital; like the other staff there, she’d been sent an email announcing the drug trials and looking for volunteers. It was well into pandemic time by then; she was sitting at home, working.
So she volunteered. So did her husband, Bruce (another of my close friends).
“I did it on a whim,” Marilyn said.
What? Wasn’t there a deeper, more impressive reason for the decision? No, Marilyn said (although I know her desire to help others was part of it).
Before Marilyn and Bruce could enter the trial, they had to be vetted, a process that took much time and testing. Volunteers have to be healthy. She and Bruce both are. They represented, to their mild dismay, a senior cohort, a group for which test results are particularly valuable. (The older you get the less likely you are to be entirely healthy, so there are fewer candidates to enroll.)
Eventually, Marilyn and Bruce both got their shots. When they began the test, they were told that they could be injected with two doses of vaccine, two doses of placebo, or one vaccine and one placebo, although the half-and-half protocol was dropped quickly.
Marilyn is sure that she got the vaccine. After the first one, she felt the slight muscle ache that often accompanies a flu shot, she said. After the second one, “my reaction was fever and chills, for a few hours. But by noon the next day, I was back working.”
She described those symptoms months before scientists reported them as likely side effects of the vaccine, so she knows that she did not invent them or recast them in her imagination to conform with what she’d expected. She felt what she felt.
Bruce, on the other hand, had no reaction to either shot.
Both Marilyn and Bruce are certain that she got the vaccine. They’re not as sure about Bruce — it’s hard to prove a negative — but they think he didn’t.
In a way, this changes nothing for Marilyn. “I am still observing all protocols,” she said. “Masking, social distancing, hand washing. I am still treating myself as if I hadn’t had it.” There are a number of reasons for that. First, she hasn’t been told officially that she got the vaccine. (That might change soon.) Second, it’s not clear that the vaccine eliminates contagion; even if she had it, she still might be able to give it to Bruce.
But still it is such liberatingly good news!
“I 150 percent absolutely recommend that everyone do this,” Marilyn said. Because while in one way it changes nothing, in another way it changes everything.
The Orthodox Union and its affiliate, the Rabbinical Council of America, agree with Marilyn. On Tuesday, the day after the first vaccines in the United States were administered, the two groups jointly sent out guidelines.
The argument it makes is straightforward. Halacha demands that we take care of our health, it says. Vaccination has proved, over the course of 200 years, to be safe and effective, and therefore most major poskim — the decisors of Jewish law — urge that they be used.
The document acknowledges that the covid vaccine is new and that it was developed unusually quickly. Both of those factors could militate against its use, because they could render it less safe or less effective.
But they don’t, the document goes on to tell us. Instead, “Our medical and scientific advisors have clarified that efforts to speed vaccine development to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have not sacrificed scientific standards, the integrity of the vaccine review process, or safety,” it says. “Rather than cutting corners, the acceleration has been achieved by marshalling unprecedented financial resources, creating multiple partnerships, and removing virtually all non-scientific bureaucratic hurdles. These efforts have not, however, involved a reduction in the appropriate safety standards or a decrease in the standard, multiple levels of scientific review.
“These efforts appear to have been successful beyond all expectations and have produced more than one vaccine with an unusually high rate of effectiveness with no indications of any significant risk. While no medical intervention can be considered risk-free, expert opinion is clear that the enormous benefits presented by these vaccines far outweigh their risks.”
Therefore, the document says, the Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders whose opinions it represents urge their followers to get the vaccine as soon as possible, and to keep up all their precautions until they’re told it’s safe to relax them.
We strongly urge our readers to follow the advice of the OU and the RCA, and the lived experience of my friend Marilyn.
Wait patiently for the vaccine, get it as soon as you can, continue to follow all protocols — and look forward to a future freed of the scourge of covid-19.