On Sunday, amid all the challenges and trauma of this pandemic, I had a most inspiring experience. I decided to visit the pop-up vaccination site at Rabbi Aharon Zulberg’s shul, The Base, just to see what was happening. I witnessed a truly heart-warming spectacle: scores of passionate volunteers from our community helping people of all backgrounds register on the EVDS and get vaccinated.
The pop-up site was part of a wider initiative called GiVV (Gauteng Vax Volunteers). Set up and run by Dr Menachem Hockman, Josh Falkson and Raphi Segal, in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Health, it involves high school and university students volunteering at vaccination sites and government hospitals across the province to speed up the data-capturing process and improve the efficiency at these sites.
The kindness and selfless concern for others; the ingenuity to come up with innovative solutions to tough challenges and the determination to see them through – this initiative represents the best of our community, exemplifying everything we stand for. And all in service of that most sacred of Torah principles – pikuach nefesh, the mitzvah to protect and preserve life.
In one day, the team at the Base vaccinated close to 3,000 people, which is truly remarkable. That is almost 3 000 people now protected from the worst effects of Covid-19, with all the positive knock-on effects that entails for our society.
It also serves as a reminder to each of us of the urgency of getting vaccinated. Vaccination is the mitzvah of this moment; it falls squarely within the parameters of pikuach nefesh and we need to seize it with both hands. Every day we delay can potentially cost life.
We have a mitzvah to preserve our own life and take care of our health, and also to save the lives of others. By getting vaccinated we fulfil this vital mitzvah. We take steps to prevent ourselves from becoming seriously ill. And we protect those around us from a potentially deadly disease which, in its current Delta variant, is particularly contagious.
And it goes well beyond the people we come into direct contact with. As a country, as a society, the sooner we reach societal immunity, the sooner we rid ourselves of the suffering and death of Covid-19. Every immunisation is a step towards freeing ourselves of this pandemic. Vaccination is the only way out. Like polio and numerous other diseases humanity has overcome, the only way we get past the coronavirus is to vaccinate the disease into oblivion.
By getting vaccinated, we also fulfil our role as Hashem’s partners in creation. The Talmud teaches that G-d gave doctors permission – and in fact, a mandate – to heal. The commentators explain that G-d wants our partnership in healing the world. Doctors, nurses, virologists, immunologists, all of those involved in the holy work of healthcare are, in fact, Hashem’s partners in creation.
Having faith in G-d does not mean that we can sit back and do nothing and expect Him to take care of us. Of course, we recognise that no doctor can heal and no vaccine can protect from disease without Hashem’s blessing. But our sages teach us explicitly that God wants us to work as His partners in creating a better world by using the laws of nature that He, Himself created. And we daven to Hashem and acknowledge that even our best efforts cannot succeed without His will and partnership. There is no contradiction. Both are essential.
And so, at this pivotal time, we need to act with speed and urgency. We need to fulfil our obligations to Hashem and to our community and to our fellow countrymen and to ourselves. We need to embrace this mitzvah and get vaccinated, if we are eligible. This is not a mitzvah that can be delayed even for a moment. Pikuach nefesh, the opportunity to preserve life, is not something we stand around debating.
The virus will not burn itself out, no amount of wishful thinking will make it magically disappear. SARS-CoV-2 will constantly reinvent itself, mutating into new variants, wreaking fresh havoc on our lives and our livelihoods and our health. The only way to stop it is the vaccine. The data is conclusive. Countries around the world with advanced vaccination programmes have shown us that even when infections start to rise again, hospital admissions are lower by orders of magnitude relative to previous waves. In effect, through vaccination we transform the coronavirus into a manageable form of flu.
I’d like to take this opportunity to call on everyone who is eligible in our community to vaccinate themselves – and to assist and encourage those who haven’t. The options are plentiful, the process is so easy. Our own Hatzolah and the Chev have just launched a programme: you make a booking; you arrive; you are in and out of the door in minutes with very little paperwork and at no cost.
The vaccine is our ticket back to the life we knew. We must take it.