From the minute it became clear that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, we realized that the thing most likely to put an end to this nightmare, the only end game, would be a vaccine. But we didn’t know which would come first – a fading away of the outbreak after it had killed off many millions of victims and destroyed the economy, or a man-made vaccine. To our great joy and relief, the second possibility seems to have come true, and in a record time of less than a year – an amazing, unprecedented scientific achievement.
If nothing major goes wrong, the big shipments of the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer will begin to arrive in Israel within days, and a short time after that the vaccines from Moderna, and the Israeli health services will begin one of the largest and fastest vaccination campaigns in history. But it will only happen if people show up to be vaccinated.
For now, surveys, discussions and debates on social media show that many people are afraid of being vaccinated, oppose it and prefer to get sick – or at the very least are willing to wait for others to vaccinate first to see what happens.
What about me? I’m just waiting for them to call me to come and get the vaccine. The minute it happens, you’ll find me among the first in line, and I hope this line looks like the line for the new Harry Potter book or the launch of the iPhone 17 – just with social distancing and masks.
Why will I run to be vaccinated the minute I can?
1. Because I want my life back – it is that simple.
I want to go back to visiting my mother without being scared of infecting her – and of course she needs to be vaccinated too for that to happen. I want to go back to hugging, gathering, going to shows, movies, going out dancing and having meetings in a room and not just on Zoom. And I want to do all of it without having to worry about being infected with COVID.
- Can Israel actually meet Netanyahu's ambitious COVID-19 vaccine target?
- First COVID vaccines are a scientific victory, but these challenges remain
- Sorry, a vaccine isn’t quite the light at the end of the COVID tunnel
Until not long ago, all the reports of successful trials from Pfizer and Moderna came as announcements by the companies themselves, but on Tuesday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that Pfizer’s vaccine provides good protection against the coronavirus within 10 days of the first shot – and this protection increases even more after the second dose, the “booster.”
2. Because I’m much more worried about the disease than the vaccine.
Most people’s fears about the vaccine concern the issue of its safety; in other words, people are afraid of the harm from the vaccine more than they are of coming down with the disease. This is mostly because of the rapidity with which the vaccine was developed and approved, which may not be adequate to reveal future side effects. When I look at the data and do my own risk management calculations, it’s clear to me what scares me more: COVID-19, and not the vaccine. COVID is more dangerous.
In comparison to the uncertainty surrounding the questions of whether the vaccine prevents infection and for how long it protects, it is actually the issue of the side effects, in other words the vaccine’s safety, where there is much more certainty.
Here is what we know about the vaccine’s safety: It is known that among the roughly 40,000 participants in the test groups of Pfizer and Moderna, the side effects that developed were localized – headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, fatigue, fever, and pain and swelling at the site of the injection: all side effects that express the actions of the body’s immunological system in response to the virus.
A rare side effect is lymphadenopathy – a temporary swelling or enlargement of the lymph nodes, usually on the side of the arm where the vaccine was injected. With other vaccines, if there were side effects, they showed up within a few weeks after the vaccination.
In our present case, in spite of the short time involved, at least a few months have passed since the last subjects received the vaccine – and new side effects have not appeared. Will the vaccine have some future side effects that appear only years later? No one knows, and of course it can’t be ruled out, but we already know quite a bit about the disease itself and the damage it causes.
The disease caused by the coronavirus has serious consequences: From age 40 and up, one out of every 1,500 COVID-19 patients has died, from 60 the mortality rate is one out of 100, and from 80 on up one out of 12 patients dies. The chances of being in serious condition and on a respirator are even higher, and the accumulated damage from the virus (post COVID) is becoming clearer – and it even affects many who had only a mild case of the disease and recovered.
The harm includes severe, prolonged weakness for about a fifth of those who recover, as well as memory loss, neurological and heart problems, chronic pain – and this list is only getting longer as we learn more about COVID-19. It is no wonder that the surveys conducted among medical staff working in the coronavirus wards show that 97 percent of those asked whether they intend on being vaccinated said yes – more than in any other group of medical staff. When the consequences of the disease are so clear, the desire to avoid it increases.
Over the past few months, I too spoke with many of these people who recovered and heard from them about the despair, difficulties and anxiety from not knowing what they could expect to happen to them. These conversations with them only enhanced my desire to avoid falling sick with COVID.
3. Because I want my social life, culture and entertainment back.
I will rush to be vaccinated and know I am protected from the disease on a personal level, but only if lots of other people are vaccinated will it be possible to reopen everything that was closed for so many months: restaurants, cafes, clubs, gyms, shows, movies, theaters, wedding halls, synagogues and everything else worth living for and that disappeared from our lives. The entire economy could return and flourish – but only on condition that enough people are vaccinated. This vaccination, like with every vaccination but especially in this case, is not just a personal step – it is also an act of social solidarity with everyone who was hurt financially, psychologically and medically by the coronavirus crisis.
4. Because I choose to trust the regulatory bodies that oversee the medical trials and the medical organizations that are analyzing the results.
Because I don’t have access or the ability to study the raw materials provided by the vaccine trial results conducted by Pfizer, Moderna and the other pharmaceutical companies, I need to decide if I trust the health authorities and professionals who determined that the vaccine is safe and effective – or not. After years of writing about health issues, I am very well aware of the enormous – and not always proper – economic interests of the drug companies. But I trust the health authorities more, as public institutions that have vast responsibility weighing down on their shoulders.
The information on the side effects in the trials is based not only on the reports from the companies themselves, but is supervised by independent committees – and all the data are checked by the FDA. The Israeli Health Ministry is also expected to approve the vaccines soon. In spite of the criticism I have about them, I believe that these institutions are doing everything they can to examine in-depth the safety and effectiveness of these new vaccines, understand the heavy responsibility involved – and will not allow any harm to public health.