When I first started to pray for a vaccine, it was after seeing a young woman, dying, make peace with her parents. Another time, there was an outbreak in a senior citizen retirement community in Florida with several residents infected. The thought that those starting their lives and those coming close to the end of their lives would be infected with a strange virus that would make them extremely sick and maybe kill them was too much to bear. I prayed for a vaccine.
Praying for cures or treatments for the ill is part of all faiths. Praying for a vaccine falls into that category. We Jews say prayers and read Tehillim (Psalms) as we reach out to Hashem for help protecting all people. We collect names for prayer, and for those who are ill we wish a complete healing (in Hebrew “refuah shleima”).
After one particularly shattering memorial service, for a beloved friend, I was thinking please, please – a vaccine. Once after spending time with a woman, who had acquired the virus during surgery, who was increasingly ill and subsequently died, I walked home thinking where is the freakin’ vaccine, when will this end? For that virus, it has not completely ended. There are prophylactic drugs, medicines to treat the opportunistic infections, and retroviral drugs to limit the virus’s effect on the immune system. But there is no vaccine for HIV. Almost one million people a year die of AIDS globally. In sub-Sahara Africa, it is the largest cause of death. More than 30 years after the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, there is still no vaccine.
Now we are faced with a new virus. It has mutated, as did HIV, but this time with more intensity. That intensity comes from the fact that this disease is easily communicable. I know people who do not have a clue where or from whom they acquired Covid-19. Not a clue.
I am no scientist or medical expert, although I am a virus geek of sorts and have been since HIV started to take the lives of so many people. We would read CDC and NIH/NIAID reports. We would study the aptly named “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” that the CDC issued. And we went to memorial services, funerals, sat with dying friends, and prayed for a vaccine. And for it to end. Now I read virology journals and articles in scientific journals. Do I understand them fully? Nope, but I do know that this present-day virus has one chance of being beaten: a vaccine. Which we now have.
Because this topic has become so volatile on social media, it is hard to discuss without being attacked. People I know and respect seem to have lost reason in refusing to vaccinate themselves and their families. It is not easy to see into another person’s thought process when it is alien to everything you believe: when people are sick and dying, you pray for something to make it stop so more do not have to suffer.
One person stated that those who have been vaccinated and have immunity should not care if she chooses to not vaccinate because we are not vulnerable to infection. The assumption is that we, who have been vaccinated and have immunity, are so selfish that we only care about our own well-being. Wrong. That is an assumption that is made to justify their poor judgment. We should all care about the risk to everyone, friends, family, and strangers, from this virus. A selfish society is not a civil society and that is what we are seeing in this strange resistance to vaccination to protect against a virus that has taken over 5,000 precious Israeli lives.
In praying for some relief from this virus, I prayed for a vaccine. Now I will continue to pray for those who will be made vulnerable by those who are refusing to access the vaccine for themselves and their families.
And, annoyed as I might be by the anti-vaccine attitude, prayers for those who walk that path are also needed as they expose themselves and their families to the risk of infection, serious illness, or death. They are the ones who need our prayers most.