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The COVID-19 vaccine is on a lot of people’s minds. With the aid of new technology, an entire world at work with resources on a scale almost inconceivable (including $10B from the US Government), with the world’s greatest minds working on it day and night and lots of cutting of bureaucratic red tape, the first two vaccines are in use in record time.
Many are unsure what they should do – vaccinate or not? I have a simple answer for most of you. Chill. Seriously, there’s no need for most people to make this decision now because so few of you can get it now. For our health care workers and nursing home residents who can get the vaccine now (or very soon) the answer is simple due to their very high risk. The two very similar vaccines have been given in two doses to about 35,000 people in trials. Another 35,000 received placebo (saltwater). Vaccination reduces cases of symptomatic COVID-19 by an amazing 95%. Side-effects were minimal. Nobody died from the vaccine. There were a small number of allergic reactions, as is normal with vaccines. However, it seems to be less frequent with this new type of vaccine due to the simple “recipe”. There are no preservatives or adjuvants. Based on follow up of the smaller earlier trials, we know the vaccine leads to antibody levels that are still high after 4-5 months, similar to people who had severe COVID-19. People who had COVID-19 with mild symptoms often lose half their antibodies in 2-3 months, and people who had COVID-19 without symptoms often have no antibodies after 2-3 months. The inconsistent antibody durability in people who had the virus is one reason why the vaccine is recommended even for people who already had COVID-19. In summary, vaccination had few side-effects, strong production of durable antibodies and exceptionally high success. For high-risk groups, it is a simple decision to get the vaccine.
At each stage of the rollout, progressively lower risk individuals will have the opportunity to get vaccinated. Importantly, at each stage of the rollout we will also have the experience of the prior stage. The vaccines are being used in other countries as well. In a month or so, tens of millions of people will have been vaccinated and we will know if there any extremely rare side-effects.
In Israel, the vaccine is being made available for everyone early on, so the decision is relevant now, and leading Rabbonim from different community segments have ruled:
Rav Chaim Kanievsky – the vaccine is obligatory due to hishtadlus. I have often wondered why hishtadlus hasn’t been talked about more in regard to COVID-19. https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/featured/1930228/watch-it-hagaon-harav-chaim-kanievsky-people-are-required-to-take-vaccine-dont-be-afraid.html
Rav Chaim Kanievsky was also part of a joint statement with Rav Gershon Edelstein (who was just vaccinated) and Rav Shalom Cohen that stated anyone who can get vaccinated, should. https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/coronavirus/1608120799-israel-top-ultra-orthodox-rabbis-issue-recommendation-to-get-covid-19-vaccine
Rav Yitzchak Yosef – vaccination is an obligation. https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/1930079/hagaon-harav-yitzchak-yosef-every-person-must-be-vaccinated.html
Rav Asher Weiss – says you should definitely get vaccinated but stops short of saying it is an obligation. The full shiur is just over an hour and had me spellbound every second. The shiur is very clear and easy to follow! The link is set to the part where he specifically addresses the COVID-19 vaccine (about 20 minutes before the end), but I highly recommend going back to the beginning if you can spare the hour. https://youtu.be/CvdRqMiPfL4?t=2591 And a written summary can be found here: http://web.colby.edu/coronaguidance/files/2020/12/Rav-Asher-Weiss-Covid-19-Vaccine.pdf
OU Poskim: vaccination is an obligation (Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Herschel Schachter; Rav Dovid Cohen). https://together.ou.org/page/guidance
Keep in mind that some of these rulings may take into account not just your own personal risk, but also the saving of other lives from reduced transmission. Rav Weiss’s shiur discusses this.
Lastly, we should take note of Hashem’s hidden blessings. The original SARS virus (2002-2003) and MERS virus (since 2012) have killed several thousand people, which is tragic for the affected families. However, research on those related coronaviruses was instrumental in the speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines, which will save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives worldwide.
P.S. – This webpage does a nice job responding to common myths about the COVID-19 vaccines: https://www.uab.edu/news/youcanuse/item/11771-debunking-the-myths-about-the-covid-19-vaccine
P.P.S. There is a lot of press about the new strains of the virus. Viruses mutate all the time, but they usually aren’t that different. They are being tested, but the expectation is that the vaccines will work against these new strains just as they work against the other strains.
Mendel Singer, PhD MPH
Associate Professor and Vice Chair for Education
Dept. of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University