The mixed messages about vaccines are only creating more questions - opinion

Each country has their own COVID requirements and are giving boosters differently.

 A MEDICAL TECHNICIAN administers the third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv earlier this year.  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A MEDICAL TECHNICIAN administers the third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv earlier this year.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

I am soooo confused.

And, unlike much of the unclarity I face nowadays that is more my “fault” – due either to the slow train of aging, which chugs along to forgetfulness, or the bullet train of technology, which often leaves my mind in the dust – the source of my confusion lately seems to be totally out of my control, and in a way much more frustrating.

All I seem to receive lately are mixed messages.

Though I promised myself I wouldn’t write yet again about COVID, let’s start there (after all, doesn’t everything in the “new reality” start with the pandemic?) First, at least here in North America, we were faced with a decision on which vaccine to receive. Whole virus? Protein subunit? Viral vector? Nucleic acid? (And would you like that sliced or unsliced?). One dose or two? Maybe a mixed dose? Mixing two types of vaccines is dangerous. Wait – it’s actually safe. Hold on again – it actually may be more efficacious….

And now we’re talking booster shots.

 Medical staff receive their third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kefar Sava, August 13, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) Medical staff receive their third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kefar Sava, August 13, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

“Everyone get one as soon as possible,” says Israel.

“Give only the Pfizer, and only to those over age 65,” says the States.

“Booster? What’s a booster?” says Canada.

Every day – sometimes multiple times a day – new studies are being released that negate what the previous day’s study swore to be true. And every week, new variants are being discovered that necessitate new studies being done on the new studies. The lack of clarity is becoming more anxiety-provoking than the disease itself.

And the rules! Not only are they confusing, but many are also nonsensical. Keep six feet away. Two feet away. Wear a mask. Only inside. If you’re not eating or drinking. Only with one other person. With up to ten people. No more than fifty people. No wonder so many are choosing to just continue binge-watching Netflix on their couches rather than re-enter this complicated world.

But if you do choose to really reintegrate into global society, nowhere is this mixed messaging more confusing than in the realm of travel. Especially in my corner of the world, where rules are changing daily. Americans can now drive across the border into Canada, but Canadians cannot drive into the US. They can, however, fly into the States after presenting a negative COVID test. As a dual citizen, I am allowed to drive into the US and don’t need to present a test result. Except when coming back into Canada. Initially, I actually had to take three tests to return: one within 72 hours, the next immediately upon crossing the border (in case I caught it in the car on my drive over?!) and the third after eight days. That was reduced to two tests, then to one, along with the reduction – and eventual illumination – of an overly restrictive 14-day quarantine. And now Canadians have been told they will soon be able to drive across the border, with rules changing hourly on what vaccinations will be accepted, what testing will be needed, and what quarantining, if any, will be mandated.

For those of us longing to travel (back) to Israel, the constantly changing rules are next to impossible to keep up with. No Americans allowed. Only if you have a really, really good reason to be there (or have protekzia – someone who can help slip you in). You must quarantine for 14 days. A week. But not at all if you arrive on a Monday or Thursday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. OK, I admit I made that last one up. But I did not make up the most recent rules, which I just found on an official Israel tourism website: “Groups of five or more tourists will be allowed into Israel as of September 19, 2021. This means that groups of five or more (families, friends, etc) can travel together. If you want to visit Israel but are fewer than five people, individuals or couples, you can join special group packages that comply with the rules starting in October 2021. There are currently no dates set for when individual travelers will be allowed to enter Israel without restrictions.”

Huh? I thought it was safer to travel alone, not with other people, especially strangers in a random group I’m being asked to join. And does it have to be an actual group tour where they’re going to force me to go to the Kotel and Moshe’s Rug Shop instead of hanging out with my Israeli friends and relatives on the beach in Tel Aviv? Anyway, I’m sure by the time you read this the rules will have changed again anyway.

OKAY, I did initially say this was not just yet another column on COVID. No, this was intended to be a reflection on the anxiety produced by mixed messages. And how that is nowhere more evident than in Israel, whose actual existence in the modern world seems to be founded upon a lack of clarity.

“Sure, Jews, you can have your own state. Just not sure what you should do about the Arabs who are living there now.”

“Of course you are entitled to your historic homeland that you won fair and square in battles not of your own making. But you can’t really occupy that land.”

I could go on, but you get the point. It truly is a miracle that Israelis over the decades have not only been able to function, but have made incredible advances in every area, given the potential paralysis caused by fear of making a wrong move, doing the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thought.

This really struck home the other day while watching a fascinating new documentary, Reaching for Zion, which examines the roots of the evolution of the relationship between Rastafari and Judaism. The host of the film, Donisha Prendergast – Bob Marley’s granddaughter – explores shared symbols like the Star of David, Lion of Judah, the 12 Tribes of Israel. In one scene, she visits Kibbutz Tze’elim in the Negev, and talks to one of its residents, Yael Maimony, a theater and festival producer.

He says, “Last year we had a war, and kids are playing outside, and the soundtrack is a war. You hear the airplanes, you hear the bombs and you sit like everything is OK. But everything is not OK. This is life in Israel. These extreme realities of your life and community and peacefulness – and war on the other side happening. With kids on the other side getting killed and… we are the strong ones. You don’t know what to feel… to feel sorry for them, happy that you’re not on the other side. But you also cannot be attached to what is going on because you’re not for the war, you don’t want a war. So where do you find yourself? Where do you put yourself? What is yourself? I don’t have the answer.”

Too many questions, too many unclear answers. Here’s hoping we can all sleep well tonight.

The writer, who is Toronto-based, can be reached at [email protected]