December 31, 2020
Thankful for getting the coronavirus vaccine - opinion
By Barbara Sofer
I have been enjoying late-night Zoom participation on the University of Pennsylvania committee to prepare for our reunion. Because I live outside of the United States, the 50th reunion is a golden opportunity to connect. I attended my high school 50th anniversary four years ago in Connecticut and I’m still delighting in the renewed friendships that only face-to-face meetings generate.
Our undergraduate years were in the turbulent late 1960s: times of demonstrations, sit-ins, second-wave feminism, black power, the first use of the words “global village.” Leonard Cohen’s new song “Suzanne” was covered by campus folk singers and the Beatles released “Hey Jude.” I reported these events for our campus daily and acted in the satiric Underground Theater. It will be thrilling to catch up and learn how we turned our idealistic innocence into real lives.
I am following up on your suggestion that I document my experience getting my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, an experience so far shared by only one other committee member. She lives in Tel Aviv.
Most of our committee meetings are about programming and class gifts, but I particularly like the informal discussions before and after reunion matters.
The elephant in the chat room is of course the coronavirus. All of us celebrating our 50th reunion are in the age-related high-risk group which has brought an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. At an early meeting, I was pleased to be asked about the innovations in testing and treatment at Hadassah Hospital and at our last meeting we listened carefully to a classmate physician express his enthusiasm for getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, whichever was first available to him.
Then, suddenly, the deep-frozen Pfizer vaccine was on its way to Israel, and this was no longer a theoretical discussion for me. We have national health care in Israel. Everyone belongs to one of four health funds that are providing the inoculations. Encouraged by our classmate, I didn’t waste a minute before phoning my health fund on the Thursday before inoculations began. A person answered, which always feels like a luxury. My husband and I were offered spots on the following Monday at the downtown main clinic, or Tuesday night at 9 p.m. at a clinic a minute walk from our home. It was so easy that I checked my Health Fund app twice. Our vaccinations were matter-of-factly listed under upcoming appointments.
On prime-time TV Saturday night, the prime minister, 71, got his shot. On Sunday morning, Israel’s president, 81 years old, came to Hadassah Hospital. By Sunday afternoon, doctors and nurses in Israel started framing their facebook profiles with “I’ve been vaccinated.” Like our classmate doctor, they wanted to show that they trust the vaccine to be safe and efficacious.
FROM THE moment I made our appointments, a sense of wonder came over me. I don’t have to tell anyone in my age cohort that living through COVID-19 means repressing the fear that we will be next to test positive. I know there are people, even our age, who laugh in the face of the coronavirus. They’re not scared, they say, or they crow over recovering overnight with the help of a magic potion. But I have been detailing the trials of Hadassah Hospital patients with COVID-19 since the beginning. The thought of not being able to breathe terrifies me, so I’ve been among the hyper-cautious, determined to stay the course.
And then, once I had an appointment, the light started flickering at the end of the long and circuitous tunnel.
When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I said my usual morning thank-you prayer for being alive and then did the calculation – only 13 hours until my appointment. I kept checking the clock. As the hour approached, I dressed up in an occasion dress, one with short sleeves, put on make-up and my favorite mask. My husband changed his shirt. We recognized several of the other masked couples arriving. It felt like a masquerade party, except that we all sat socially spaced. A medical hostess with a clipboard greeted us and found our names. Within five minutes of arrival we were summoned as a couple. Ruthie, the nurse on duty and someone in our age group, was familiar; her son and one of ours had been in elementary school together. She asked a few questions about allergies. I barely had time to silently say the shehiyanu prayer – thanking God for bringing me to this day – before she administered the vaccine. A pinprick. Before you could say “Jacob Robinson” we were both done and reminded to return in exactly 21 days for the second shot.
My husband and I walked home with jubilation and toasted the day with a l’hayim. Neither of us had side effects – from the vaccine or the wine.
My husband and I have lived in Israel most of our adult lives, but we still file American income tax returns. We’re pleased that some of those taxes have gone toward Operation Warp Speed. Still, describing this experience to you who are not yet eligible for the American-created vaccine takes me out of my comfort zone. And yes, I have already heard the term “vaccine-envy.”
I am feeling very thankful – to the scientists who produced the vaccine, to the creation and funding of Operation Warp Speed, to Israel for quickly importing the vaccine and making grandparents a priority. I’m counting down the 21 days until I get the second dose, and then the seven days after that to get the purported 95% immunity. Until then, we need to be extra careful because the sense that the pandemic may be over soon has caused people to let down their guard and paradoxically the numbers of infected, critically ill and ventilated patients in Jerusalem is rising.
Our reunion will be postponed, of course. Even the well-organized alumni-friendly Philadelphia campus cannot risk inviting hundreds of septuagenarians.
I googled you and saw that in addition to being a retired energy executive, you have a hobby of singing the Star Spangled Banner and other anthems at sporting events, even Fenway Park where the Red Sox play. I noticed that you also include our beloved anthem Hatikva in your repertoire. May we soon have occasions on both sides of the ocean to celebrate with song!
Class of ‘71 University of Pennsylvania