Coronavirus vaccines in Israel a big hit: 'A year of emotion in one vial'

Israel is plowing ahead with vaccinations. How are Israelis responding to the shot?

A health care worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
A health care worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
When the nurse reached for Baila Beatrice Brecher’s shoulder to jab her with the vaccine against the novel coronavirus, she started to cry.
A year’s worth of emotion and hope in that one little vial,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
It’s nearly two weeks since the country’s coronavirus vaccine campaign kicked off, and nearly one million people have been inoculated with their first dose of protection against COVID-19.
While news reports have largely focused on the challenges of the campaign – long lines and busy telephone lines – the Post interviewed dozens of people who were vaccinated and heard from dozens more on social media. They shared their vaccine success stories and described the side-effects they were experiencing – all of which were minimal and in line with expectations.
“It is the same as any other vaccination – no different,” said Deena Schwartz, a neo-natal nurse at Hadassah-University Medical Center on Mount Scopus. She was among the country’s first to be jabbed, and reported that “it was not painful. I had only slight discomfort for 24 hours, but nothing that really bothered me at all.”
But Schwartz said that while she has not changed her habits of wearing a mask and social distancing, her attitude has shifted.
“It is that feeling that soon there will be an easing of the situation,” she said. “I feel like I am on the road toward bringing corona to an end.”
Dorothy Kushner, an 83-year-old from Tel Aviv, described the operation at her local Maccabi health fund as nothing short of “impressive.”
She said what impressed her was the efficiency of the operation. The nurse who injected her was supervised and they were very careful to verify that at her ripe age, she did not have any conditions that could compromise the safety or efficacy of the vaccine.
The night she took the vaccine, she experienced slight achiness before bed. When she woke up the next morning, the symptoms were gone.
“We have a wonderful medical system here and they are not going to endanger the population,” Kushner said. “I don’t see any reason to discourage people.”
THE HEALTH  Ministry shared a lengthy report on Thursday with the Post that had been published earlier in the week, showing the most common side effects reported by those who were vaccinated in their health funds and in hospitals.
In total, only 652 out of the more than 630,000 people who were vaccinated by then had expressed any side effects – just 0.1%. Almost half (293) said they felt pain at the site on injection. Among others, 100 people reported pain in various parts of their bodies. Some 83 said they felt weak or fatigued, 39 were dizzy and 26 became nauseous or vomited.
Some 26 people said they had some kind of “neurological” symptoms – mostly mild, except for one person who reported losing consciousness.
Another 21 experienced fever or flashes. In contrast, 16 said they experienced chills.
Fourteen people had allergic reactions.
Earlier this week, a 49-year-old man arrived at a Jerusalem emergency medical center an hour after he was given a COVID-19 vaccination, suffering from severe anaphylactic shock. The man told the medical staff present that he had had allergic reactions to penicillin, but he doesn’t have any other illness. His condition was quickly stabilized.
The vast majority (601) of people who had side effects did not seek treatment. Some 51 received care at a health fund, emergency room or emergency medical center.
At least two people have died on the day they received their vaccinations. The incidents were investigated by the Health Ministry and first reports found that the deaths were unconnected to the vaccine. Kan News reported four deaths.
The Post reported on two of these deaths. The first was of a 75-year-old man who was immuno-compromised and suffered previously from chronic heart failure. The second was an 88-year-old man who also had serious pre-existing health conditions.
JONATHAN FERZIGER, 60, from Jerusalem was one of the people who felt chilled – but not right away.
“I came out thinking, ‘Wow! Great! Really smooth,’” he told the Post. Then, almost two days later at around 11 p.m. at night he was sitting on the couch and suddenly felt chilly.
“Over the next half-hour it intensified until I was experiencing these incredible chills,” he recalled. “My teeth were chattering like I had not felt since I was 9 years old.”
At the same time, he felt this jabbing pain in his ankles and joints and he didn’t know what was happening, until his wife suggested that perhaps it was from the vaccine – which he now believes it was.
“I went to bed under my covers and the next couple of hours were really unpleasant. And then I woke up around 4 a.m. and it was gone,” he said. “It was kind of a surprise and it was unpleasant, but very compact. It came and then went away. I was amazed by it.”
Karen Katzman Hanan was amazed for another reason: “It was an amazingly positive experience,” she said.
A resident of Even Yehuda, she was vaccinated at a mall in Netanya. She said she was there for less than an hour and was impressed by the professionalism of the staff. Like the 293 others reported earlier this week, she experienced pain in her arm at the injection site.
“The first day, I really could not even take my shirt off,” Hanan said, “which is not the case now.”
She said one painkiller over two days worked to quell the pain, which had started five or six hours after vaccination.
She said there was no swelling, no redness.
Hanan added that she and her husband had considered waiting to be vaccinated, but she decided that doing it sooner is a civic responsibility.
“We can certainly come together and end this and maybe just start this New Year in a better place,” she said. “It was a minor inconvenience, a minor thing that I went through in order to get us all to a better place. I am looking forward to my second shot.”
“We feel great – and the happiest we’ve felt since March,” wrote Shelley Goldman on Facebook in response to a question from the Post about her vaccination.
Kalanit Taub stands waiting in line to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
KALANIT TAUB  from Efrat, a volunteer with the United Hatzalah emergency medical services organization, told an exceptional story: She went to get vaccinated in Jerusalem and within half an hour was working to resuscitate a senior citizen who stopped breathing nearby.
“I was about to put my key into the engine when I got a call that someone needed CPR,” said Taub. “I was the first to arrive and started doing chest compressions. I felt like I was living out why I needed to be vaccinated.”
She said that “one of my biggest fears as an EMT (emergency medical technician) was being asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic with COVID and accidentally infecting one of my patients and getting them sick and God forbid killing them.
“Being vaccinated is a huge load off my shoulders,” she said. “Now, I am less likely to endanger my patients. I am totally elated.”
Shelley Stein, 66 from Maale Adumim, said she spent nearly four hours trying to make her appointment to be vaccinated. But when she arrived at the Maccabi clinic at the Payis Arena in Jerusalem to be inoculated, “I took a number like you do at a bakery or the deli” and was welcomed right inside.
“There was a lot of excitement about it,” Stein’s husband, Phillip, said. “Friends in the States are a little jealous. We have gotten a lot of kol hakavods [congratulatory wishes], and people telling us how lucky we are. I say that with a lot of emotion in my voice.”
Shelley Stein and her husband Phillip receive the coronavirus vaccine together.
“There are a lot of people who are concerned these vaccines were rushed,” said Anne Bechar, 61, from Tel Aviv. But she said that she does not believe corners were cut. And with her children and grandchildren in the States, “if this means I can see my family and not live in fear, I think it is incredible.”
“There is a lot of doom-and-gloom out there about this vaccine,” Brecher said. “There are those who say it hasn’t been tested enough, it can affect fertility, can make us sick, can turn me into a man or grow me another head. Or simply that it won’t work and we will be relegated to this reality forever.
“But what if we change the way we think about this vaccine and reframe it in a more affirmative, confident way?” she asked. “I am grateful to God to be living in a time when science has the potential to do so much for so many.”