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Vaccinated in Israel, I feel incredibly appreciative, and I’m daring to hope

A chain of wise and wonderful people, abroad and here, inside a year, managed to find a counter to COVID and have now started to deliver it. May the rest of the planet follow suit

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

An Israeli teacher receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at the Shamir Medical Center in Be'er Ya'akov, on December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)
An Israeli teacher receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at the Shamir Medical Center in Be'er Ya'akov, on December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

I have a tiny, blessed ache in my right arm. May it signal the beginning of the end of our common nightmare.

I’ve just sat down at my desk having been vaccinated against COVID-19, a few minutes ago, by the staff of the Maccabi health fund at Jerusalem’s Arena stadium — an indoor sports and concert facility newly pressed into pandemic battle service.

I’m close to, but not yet over 60, but Maccabi is now vaccinating over 55s with medical issues, and my very mild asthma apparently counts, since I was texted by Maccabi to make an appointment along with my wife. And we were then permitted to schedule that appointment together with the one already set for my parents, who are both in their late 80s.

** This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

So, off we went to the Arena, in two cars — the four of us, that is, along with my mother’s unflappable and resourceful full-time carer, together with my sister and brother-in-law (both over 60, both already vaccinated by the Meuhedet HMO).

People waiting to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at Jerusalem’s Arena Stadium on December 30, 2020 (Haim Zach / GPO)

We were half-dreading the very complex process of transitioning our two wheelchair-bound parents from home to car to vaccination center and back, so my wife had done an advance run, working out the logistics of where we’d be able to stop on the narrowish street leading to the stadium.

I anticipated traffic jams outside, and then long lines of inevitably impatient, worried and frazzled folks, in far too close proximity, awaiting the protective injection.

A Maccabi Healthcare Services staffer holds up a vial of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Traffic there certainly was, but it moved along fairly smoothly. We were not even honked at as we carefully transferred our parents from passenger seats to wheelchairs. A parking attendant stepped in to direct me and my brother-in-law to a vacant parking area, while the rest of our little group took the elevator to the Arena entrance area.

A country notorious for bureaucratic red tape has set up an unprecedented nationwide vaccination operation in an instant — computer databases whirring into logistical operation, vaccination centers fitted out, staff hired and trained, millions of precious vaccine doses purchased, imported and distributed

By the time I rejoined them they had been given a number, and my wife was filling out a brief form for each of us — half a dozen yes/no questions about allergies, temperatures and other basics. A big screen showed 50 people ahead of us, but the numbers were ticking over fast. The waiting time was plainly going to be short.

Except we didn’t wait at all. A staffer, seeing the wheelchairs, ushered us straight to one of the booths where the vaccinating was in full flow. Itai, a paramedic, and Dror, his colleague, doublechecked our forms, switching easily from Hebrew to English to make sure my folks understood everything, and unfussily administered the shots, taking the greatest of care with my rather fragile mom. Then they sent us on our way, with the injunction to wait 15 minutes in the entrance area as a safety precaution.

Israelis are vaccinated at the Clalit Covid-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The process was so spectacularly smooth that I know others’ experiences cannot and will not all be so untroubled. But I also know that Israel will have vaccinated something like a tenth of the populace before the end of the week if current rates are maintained, and we only started the drive, with an initial limited focus on healthcare workers, 10 days ago.

A country notorious for bureaucratic red tape has set up an unprecedented nationwide vaccination operation in an instant — computer databases whirring into logistical operation, vaccination centers fitted out, staff hired and trained, millions of precious vaccine doses purchased, imported and distributed.

Related: Small wonder: How Israel rolled up its sleeves and became vaccination nation

It’s an operation working so effectively that the most minor of snafus, in which a total of a few hundred of the refrigerated Pfizer doses went to waste because they passed their expiration date, has made headlines.

President Reuven Rivlin (right) speaks with people waiting to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at Jerusalem’s Arena Stadium on December 30, 2020 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Incidentally, we must have just missed President Reuven Rivlin, who called in at the Arena at around the same time as we were there. “I must say that it is very exciting to be here,” he said. “It is less than two weeks since the vaccination program began, and here we are in your buzzing beehive of activity, where 2,000 people are vaccinated every hour – more than 100,000 Israelis so far.” Absolutely, Mr. President.

The Times of Israel has reported concerns that the current remarkable nationwide 150,000-shots-a-day pace may slow early next month, as stocks run low, before accelerating again in February. I’ve also seen suggestions that the vaccine manufacturers are eager to ensure Israel can maintain its world-leading process, so that the entire nation can serve as a model and a statistical test case for the rest of the planet.

Naturally, in a nation heading into its fourth election in two years, the race between virus and vaccine — as new cases of contagion spike amid the current lockdown — is being widely viewed through a political filter, too: Will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s starring role as both vaccine-supply negotiator-in-chief and role model First Vaccinee immunize him from election defeat in March?

But those are issues for another moment, and doubtless for other columns.

A Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a Clalit Covid-19 vaccination center at the Kaplan medical center in Rehovot, December 29, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

For now, I’d simply like to say a thank you — to the whole chain of wise and wonderful people abroad and at home who, inside a year, managed to find a counter to COVID-19 and have now started to deliver it. I’d like to recognize my privilege in being an early recipient, and appreciate how Israel’s core get-it-done capacity has triumphed over all obstacles thus far. I’d like to hope the rest of humanity can follow suit as quickly and safely as possible. I’d like to wish that world leaders henceforth prioritize treatment and, crucially, R&D and preventative measures to safeguard humanity and our planet — massively reallocating resources, now that science has demonstrated its awesome capabilities when properly funded and supported.

My mother had not been out of the house except for medical appointments since March. Her journey today, and her second trip, three weeks from now, I pray, will be her liberation. We haven’t hugged her since March either. But today, when we brought her home, I allowed myself to kiss her gently, briefly on her head, through my mask and her hat.

The whole vaccination expedition took about as long as it’s taken me to write this column. And, in case you were wondering, that little ache in my arm has gone.

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