“Will it hurt?” my nine-year-old daughter asked me Friday morning as we walked up to the third floor of the Meuhedet Health Service clinic at Misgav Ladach Hospital in Jerusalem. “Will it make me sick, or will it keep me from getting sick?
“Did you get it?” she continued. “Did Bubby?”
Her little face looked up at me in anticipation. My mini-me, always full of questions, wanting to understand just a little more, to get confirmation, validation – to calm her racing mind.
Admittedly, I was just as nervous as she was as we entered the complex, with its bright blue balloons and smiling mascots.
After weeks of deliberation that started even before the Health Ministry had affirmed that it recommends vaccinating children with two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, I had made the decision to inoculate my three youngest children.
The older kids, ranging in age from 13 to 18, were jabbed as soon as the shots had become available. Everyone got their flu shots earlier this month. But I remained conflicted about giving a novel vaccine to young children, even as I know how dangerous COVID-19 can be.
Even as I have watched young adults, some under the age of 30, hooked up to ventilators for the transgression of dancing at their friends’ weddings without masks.
Even as I have interviewed the trembling father of a young girl who nearly died of the virus, she was caught for the simple act of going to school.
And even as someone whose entire life has been turned upside down by SARS-CoV-2, who wakes up early to read new research and goes to bed late to write about it.
So, what made me take my children to get the jab? Here are three reasons why I did it:
1 - It is called Omicron
Media reports of a new variant of concern started circulating last week, raising red flags in Israel and around the world. What is now known as the Omicron variant has more than 30 mutations on the virus’s spike protein alone and is eerily reminiscent of the Beta variant, which died out quickly but had been proven to have greater resistance to existing vaccines.
Virus mutations are more likely to occur the more times the virus replicates, whereas if the infection rate is low, then the number of mutations tends to be relatively small.
Imagine you are taking notes in class and then you re-copy those notes by hand over and over again. The more times you re-copy the notes, the more likely you are to make a mistake, perhaps changing an ‘I’ to a ‘T’ or a ‘C’ to a ‘K.’ Maybe you leave out a letter or add an extra one.
Sometimes these changes have negligible impact, as you can still figure out what the notes mean. But other times, even the single exchange of a letter could have a profound effect. Hat (with an a) has a different meaning than hot (with an o). Or how about: “My wife is tough” versus “my life is tough” – two quite different meanings.
When these mistakes repeat themselves and start to spread, this becomes a variant. When the variant is stronger, faster, more infectious or causes more severe disease, the variant becomes a variant of concern.
Less than 25% of the South African population is vaccinated, which means the virus is replicating a lot over there. A much higher percentage of Israelis are inoculated, but not enough.
The Talmud teaches us: “Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.” When my five-year-old returned to school on Friday after her shot, the teacher announced it to the classroom, and they all stood and applauded her for doing a mitzvah.
By vaccinating my children, the virus will have less opportunity to spread and infect other people, including the elderly and immunocompromised, who might be less protected.
Vaccinating them also means that fewer citizens are susceptible to variants that travelers might bring into the country, such as the travelers who carried the Omicron variant into Israel last week – including one woman who took a bus all the way from the Center to Eilat not knowing that she was infected.
2 - It is what they wanted
My 11-year-old daughter has been in isolation more than once. She missed her friends, fell behind in school, had to skip gymnastics and pouted around the house eating junk food and yelling at her sisters.
COVID has robbed us of many of the things we loved to do, like going to family movies or concerts or plays. I have been hesitant to bring my unvaccinated children to any indoor activities where other unvaccinated people might be and they could catch corona.
We stopped having large Shabbat and holiday meals because of the increased risk of eating together. And we have not seen my immediate family for two years because of the increased risk of flying.
Everyone just wants to go back to their routine – especially the children.
Devarya, 11, has been following vaccination news. When she heard that her cousins in the United States were able to get inoculated, she wanted to as well.
“If Jake and I are both vaccinated, will we be able to see each other again?” she asked me.
And when Israel approved the vaccines, she was the first to ask for an appointment – even though I was not yet convinced. Ultimately, she needs that jab for her own peace of mind – to know that if another kid in her class catches the virus, she will not have to be as nervous while she waits for the results of her PCR test. She will not have to skip her extracurricular activities because someone else is sick if she is protected.
3 - It is the era of here and now
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we must live for today because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
Long-term planning is important when you are talking about business strategy and financial sustainability and vision and branding. Celebrating today is essential for how you interact with and embrace the people you love and your passions.
The US Food and Drug Administration has made clear that “limited data are available on long-term outcomes” of the currently approved coronavirus vaccines. At the same time, science has shown that the majority of serious side effects for any vaccine occur within just a few weeks of inoculation, and the COVID-19 vaccine should be no different.
The coronavirus is much less likely to be harmful to young children. Only around 200 Israeli children and teens have been hospitalized with the virus since the start of the pandemic, out of around 550,000 children who have caught it.
But in an era where more than five million people have died of COVID-19, including well over 8,000 in the State of Israel, getting vaccinated now could be immediately life-saving.
I hope (and assume) that there will be no future repercussions – and I'll cross that bridge if we come to it.
For now, I just want my children to be as safe as they can be.