I got my second vaccination for the coronavirus this week.
I’m 25 years old, with no pre-existing conditions that I know about, and I’m not a healthcare/frontline worker.
But I got vaccinated anyways, because I live in Jerusalem, hold dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship, and I work inside a hospital with many COVID-positive patients, which puts me at a moderate-risk of contracting COVID myself and potentially becoming a carrier. For all my vaccine-hesitant readers out there, know that I am 100% fine after having both of my COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines – just a bit of arm soreness and chills, and the benefits far outweigh the mild vaccine-related symptoms.
I know that talking about vaccinations for a young, healthy person like me is a challenging topic. Reading this, I am sure there are folks who are experiencing more than a twinge of frustration or anger (probably a lot of frustration and anger – make sure to call your MP and let them know that you deserve that shot as much as me!).
I also know I am unlikely to suffer from serious COVID-related complications, and there are many countries around the world that haven’t received a single dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Israel, however, is not one of those countries – it has vaccinated almost 40% of its population already and nearly all of its front-line/healthcare workers, which is why I was permitted to receive the vaccine last week – well ahead of my friends, family and colleagues in Canada. I’m aware of that privilege every day now: as I walk through the rainy, wintery Jerusalem streets, my body is working for me, building up immunity to COVID-19 and significantly lowering the chance of me becoming a super-spreader at work or in public.
For those who are wondering how Israel was able to jump the cue when so many other countries are now struggling to get vaccines, the answer is pretty straightforward: some chutzpah, like early dealmaking with Pfizer when other countries had not committed to a specific vaccine candidate, some foresight, and a small population (1/33rd the size of the US). Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s embattled Prime Minister, has basically staked his career on the vaccine rollout, and he convinced Pfizer to supply Israel with enough vaccines (around 10 million) to cover the whole population, in exchange for sharing data in a kind of real-world vaccine trial (current results show that the Pfizer vaccine works as intended, with about 95% efficiency and a sharp decrease in severe cases). Israel also leads the world per-capita in vaccinations, because its rollout of the Pfizer shot was done extremely quickly, and without some of the bureaucratic red tape other countries are challenged by currently (this is doubly surprising for those who have up-close experience with the byzantine regulatory environment that is the Israeli healthcare system).
I also benefited from the fast rollout of the Pfizer vaccine: I lined up inside Hadassah Hospital, the same building I work in every day as a researcher, signed a few forms, and within fifteen minutes a nurse had swabbed my arm, uncapped a rather large needle to draw down the vaccine and injected me (while talking over my head to the nurse beside her the whole time).
As I left, I received a text to my phone scheduling my followup shot, and while I waited in the holding pen in case of an adverse reaction, I watched the nurse inject five more people – five more folks who would now be less likely to act as asymptomatic carriers of COVID, infecting their friends, neighbours and loved ones.
That was when it really hit home for me. We, as a global community, need to find a way to vaccinate 7 billion people in a safe and timely manner. Try to visualize 14 billion needles being individually uncapped, injected, and then needle and cap disposed of safely. It’s going to be one of the defining challenges of our generation. Already, it’s easy to find discarded masks in the streets and littering our lives. The vaccination rollout with all its needles and caps won’t be perfect, and it may not even be fair (but we should keep pressuring governments and companies to keep it as fair as possible).
I do believe we will get there in the end, but it will not be easy. 14 billion injections need to make it into 7 billion arms, and many countries do not have the infrastructure or healthcare professionals needed to get the vaccine out. Even the US, EU and other countries with expansive healthcare coverage are struggling to vaccinate their populations. Luckily, this real need has pushed innovators to come up with new solutions to these problems, from more efficient cooling units, to temperature detectors for vaccine transport, and in the case of my own biotechnology startup company, a tool to help front-line workers uncap, recap and dispose of needles more safely after making injections.
Although I’m physically based in Jerusalem, thanks to COVID-induced remote startup incubation and acceleration, our bi-national startup company, DECAP R&D Inc. was able to join the entrepreneurship@UBC Lab2Launch Accelerator, which is based in BC and has deep ties with the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. DECAP R&D was created to eliminate the risk of needle-stick injuries, which I think will come in useful when we need to handle those 14 billion vaccinations. Our product was designed by scientists and clinicians who have experienced the extremely high incidence of needle-stick injuries while working with needles, so DECAP makes working with needles easier, safer, and reliable. This may have a role to play in helping frontline workers roll out and administer the vaccine 14 billion times. Stay tuned for another post next week to find out how!