Israel, the COVID vaccine pioneer: an insider opinion

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Disclaimer: all opinions and insight in this post are my own. I make no claims of statistic or scientific accuracy.

Some time ago, I wrote about my personal choice to wait and watch for a while before getting the COVID vaccine. Since I work from home, am not in a risk group, and am a natural introvert, this choice is viable for me.

But it is different for many other people in Israel. Quite simply, many will soon have to take the vaccine – regardless of their personal preferences or concerns – to keep their livelihood and avoid restrictions.

Israel has started its vaccination campaign in full force and, so far, has vaccinated about 1/3 of the total population and most people in risk groups. Despite this, COVID continues to spread rapidly, in a large part because of new variants that now target younger people and children as well.

There’s a big – and, in my eyes, very scary – trend of shaming and pressuring the people who are reluctant to get the vaccine for any reason. They are labeled uneducated, scare-mongerers, selfish, unwilling to “do their part”. Allegedly, vaccine refusers are the reason why we won’t be climbing out of this pandemic anytime soon.

There has been talk of making vaccination mandatory but, since legislation for this would likely cause an uproar, there’s an insidious movement to make people get a vaccine by existing legal means.

It started with a “green passport” incentive that’s supposed to give vaccinated citizens access to shopping centers and recreational activities, and escalated to organizations saying their workers had better get the vaccine if they want to keep their jobs. Teachers who have concerns about the vaccine are told “it’s your fault we can’t open schools, kids are missing out on their education because of your silly irrational fears”. I’ve heard local authorities declare that unvaccinated individuals will get no services, no counseling, no assistance when needed. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal, but the statements can give you a hint of the overall attitude.

Any concerns about the vaccine are systematically swept under the rug and any reports of possible serious side effects are dismissed as a coincidence. This week I heard a recording of an epidemiologist who had given a radio interview and very carefully and rationally explained why the vaccine might not be 100% safe for everyone. The interviewer, seething with fury, terminated the report midway.

The worst part? Leading authorities are talking about taking the plunge and vaccinating children and pregnant women before any clinical trials have taken place for these groups, because without these populations, Israel will never reach herd immunity.

I am still pretty positive about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. I hope that, in the end, it will prove the solution we’ve all been hoping for. But here’s the thing:

It should be illegal to try and coerce, force, shame, or manipulate anyone into taking the vaccine. It should be illegal to offer external incentives for taking the vaccine.

Any discussion on possible negative side effects should be open and transparent. People shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to ask questions, or labelled as senseless fear-mongerers when they do.

The demonization of people who are choosing not to take the vaccine yet has got to stop. It appears, so far, that being vaccinated doesn’t prevent someone from spreading the virus to others. Therefore, it has minimal impact on my neighbors and friends whether I’m vaccinated or not. We are not the problem. We were not the ones who caused uncontrolled spread through massive crowded events, parties, demonstrations and (ironically) funerals.

I never thought I would say this, but living in Israel has become scary lately. I have never felt such instability. Not during wars, not during terror campaigns.

I pray that we somehow make our way out of this without forgetting about democratic values like bodily autonomy, critical thinking, and freedom of speech. Because so far, things aren’t looking very hopeful on that score.

Why I’m probably going to wait before getting a COVID vaccine

Warning: this might be a bit of a controversial post (something I don’t really do anymore these days!)

Like everyone else, I’ve been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. And like everyone else, I’d just love to get my life back.

I don’t think COVID is a hoax. I’m not really into conspiracy theories. I am a very run-of-the-mill person. I vaccinate my kids (with a slightly delayed schedule for newborns).

But I would still rather wait a while before lining up for a COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s why.

In the past months, the world has been pretty much obsessed with the upcoming vaccines and when oh when we can get them, and whether Pfizer’s or Moderna’s is more effective. There’s been a lot of indignation about knowing that there won’t be enough vaccine stock for everyone at once, and a whole lot of arguments about who gets first priority.

There’s been a lot of talk about “emergency approval” (fancy word for cutting corners with trials and testing) and doing it all fast, fast, and FASTER.

The comments from more cautious people saying, “but wait, maybe we need more trials” are pushed to the bottom of talkback lists and the people writing them are labeled as whackos.

The novel vaccines (actually labeled “revolutionary” by their makers) were judged as being “safe to use” with suspicious speed. And there has been talk about making them mandatory.

I doubt anyone will be coming to round us up and tie us to chairs to get us vaccinated. But people who would rather wait a bit before trying a new, only recently tested vaccine might find themselves facing serious limitations in travel, employment, and their children’s education.

When you Google “covid vaccine side effects” you get the typical list of vaccine side effects (swelling, redness, slight fever, etc) but nothing about longer-term possible implications. Why? Because there simply hasn’t been enough time to test them yet. COVID has been with us less than a year.

I’d like to wait at least a year to see some conclusive, nonbiased research on the effects of various COVID vaccines on pregnant women, children, and immunocompromised groups. We’re being told that governments and the WHO have given the green light. They claim it’s safe.

But the thing is, they really, really, REALLY WANT it to be safe.

Governments want to reopen the economy with no limitations. They want to make sure the hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. They want the unemployment rates to go down. They think in global terms.

As an individual, I would rather live another year or two with masks and social distancing than take the risk of an insufficiently tested vaccine. Why do I say “insufficiently”? Because there simply hasn’t been enough time.

Here is one of the few articles I’ve found with a safe, balanced approach towards the COVID vaccine. Neither an “avoid all vaccines like the devil” nor “let me be the first to get it”.

So I’m just going to do something very conservative. Wait and watch. And I know many people around the globe are thinking along the same lines, though we might be a bit of a silent group.

When little ones are sick: a re-post

I thought it would be nice to re-post this little throwback to four years ago.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

This week we’ve been struggling with a bout of flu that got all of the children in turn. As much as it pains me to see a little one sick, I consider this also an opportunity to slow down – which is especially important if I’m not at my best either – rest, unwind and do some quiet, enjoyable things there often isn’t enough time for:

Reading – listening to an interesting new story, or re-visiting an old friend of a book, is a soothing and relaxing activity that is perfectly suited for a day spent mostly in bed or on the couch. Older children can read quietly to themselves.

Crafts – drawing, stitching, beading and working with play-dough all stimulate the mind and creative senses without requiring too much physical exertion. Dress-up or building forts and hideouts with chairs and blankets are also fun.

Board games – pull out old favorites like Monopoly or Scrabble, or try something new. Forbidden Island is currently all the rage here.

Outdoor time – if the weather is nice, I see no reason to necessarily stay indoors. On the contrary, warm sunshine provides a cheering effect and may even help with nasal congestion. I do discourage sick children from “playing hard” – running, riding bikes, climbing trees, etc.

Outdoors we may also pick herbs to make medicinal tea and talk about their various healing properties, as well as of the importance of staying hydrated in general.

Movies – I like to restrict screen time, and especially so for sick children, because I find that prolonged staring into a screen is fatiguing, but a short cartoon or an educational video can be nice.

On days when the children don’t feel well, I usually dispense with school, but the girls may still choose to do some fun educational activities such as writing in their story notebooks.

The most important thing is to remember that this, too, shall pass. Slow down, allow everybody the time to rest and heal, and try not to mind the mess too much. There is always tomorrow for catching up with housework, gardening and lessons.

The little yarn shop

Photo by Surene Palvie on Pexels.com

It was a tiny store tucked into the crook of a little side street, with no showy banner or attractive display windows. But if you knew where to go, you’d see bins upon bins of discounted yarn overflowing to the sidewalk, and ladies rummaging in them enthusiastically. On the shelves inside, you would find every yarn you could ever want, from affordable acrylic to luxury cashmere blends.

I had not been there since the coronavirus breakout and ensuing restrictions in March, and I’m not even sure the store is still there. It was not an essential business, so it wouldn’t get permission to operate during lockdowns. It was tiny, with barely any room between the display shelves and the counter, so it wouldn’t allow for social distancing. It was not big or modern enough to have financial reserves or switch to online orders.

I’ve completed many crochet projects since the start of the COVID-19 era, with yarn arriving in convenient, hazard-free packages from eBay or Ice Yarns. But I miss the little warm hub where the proprietor would always be ready to chat about anything related to knitting, crochet, and macrame; where other visitors would sometimes chime in with spontaneous opinions about whatever you were buying; where I would see displays of beautiful fiber art from local artisans.

I have most of the things I need within walking distance, and haven’t been to town in months. And I fear that next time I peek into that little side street, I will see the yarn shop locked up or replaced by another business – perhaps a place selling cheap plastic homeware or cell phones or toiletries – something that would get more of a leeway than a yarn shop to remain open.

I realize that the COVID restrictions are necessary to keep the infection levels down, but I feel that social distancing regulations are killing us as a society. They are knocking down the weak and vulnerable, the poor and the lonely. They prioritize large, soulless convenience stores over small businesses run by real people. They isolate us and deprive us of everything that is so essentially human, like hanging out with friends and spontaneous hugs. That’s a tragedy, and I don’t know how to avert it or whether we can ever turn the wheels back.

Living through another lockdown

I’m failing to keep up with what’s going on in the rest of the world, but Israel is going through another lockdown, and I feel like I’m nearing the end of my rope. I’m not alone, either.

Things are mostly closed, except for food and pharma. Places are shut up and businesses are going bust. COVID statistics are frightening. Hospitals are nearing maximum capacity and we’re all going to suffer from further overload.

There’s something profoundly unsettling about having to keep away from people – to meet a friend and then be restricted to talking awkwardly from a distance through a mask, without being able to give a hug.

No library. No swimming pool. But thankfully, the heat is letting up enough for us to plan some hiking and spending time in the open air during this week of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

I have some friends who have taken this whole crappy period as an incentive to do lots of house remakes and upgrades. Me? I feel like I have weights on my arms and legs. I just slug through work, food prep, basic cleaning, and some reading and crochet to keep sane.

I keep counting my blessings. We’re all in good health. I

live in a large house with a yard, trees, chickens, etc. We have a large supply of books and craft supplies. There are plenty of educational and entertaining stuff on the Web. I work from home and have a flexible schedule.

How many people have it way, WAY harder?!

Still, I find it hard to shake off this heavy, heavy oppressive feeling. And I’m sending this post out there as a big virtual hug for all the people who feel the same.

Stay safe, guys. And stay sane. Hug your kids. Do that puzzle. Bake those cookies. Put on some music. Do whatever makes you feel good that isn’t totally unreasonable. Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this.

Delicious homemade granola

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Cooked oatmeal is a great, healthy morning food, but sometimes you’re looking for something quicker, or just aren’t in the mood for hot breakfast. In this case, homemade granola might just be the thing for you. 

Most commercial granola brands are ridiculously expensive and loaded with sugar, but it’s easy to make your own, and once you try it, you’ll never look back.

Basically, you will mainly need 2-3 cups whole oats, and you can add various goodies such as:

– Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds

– Raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricot chunks

– Coconut or almond slivers

Mix everything and add cinnamon, a couple of teaspoonfuls of coconut oil, and your favorite natural sweetener such as honey, date sugar, or maple syrup.

Spread over a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at medium heat, or just until it gets a beautiful golden hue.

Take out of the oven and set out to cool and dry. Keep in a sealed jar.

Enjoy for breakfast or as an any-time-of-the-day treat!

My 5 favorite herbs and how I use them

Herbs are some of the easiest things to grow, hands down. Proof is, even I am capable of keeping them alive and thriving. Many of them will spread like weeds if you let them, popping up every spring without any effort on your part. Herbs are usually pretty tolerant when it comes to soil type and sun and shade balance.

Here are my top five favorite herbs, which I use for tea, seasoning, remedies, or all of the above.

1. Mint

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With its refreshing, invigorating smell, mint makes delicious tea that is great either hot or cold. Mint is great for colds and digestive complaints.

2. SageDSC_0711

We had a glorious sage bush at our old home, but here, my poor little sage plant took some assaults from the chickens, who insisted on digging around it and trampling it for some reason (they don’t eat it, though – it’s a bonus point for chicken keepers. Sharp-smelling herbs are about the only thing chickens find unappetizing).

Anyway, my sage plant seems to be in recovery now, and is flowering. Which makes me really happy, because sage tea is a powerful decongestant and great for sore throats.

3. Rosemary

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My rosemary is still young, but its mother plant is a big arborescent bush.

Rosemary has some potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, and I just love it in cooking. It’s divine with oven-baked fish and roast potatoes.

4. Oregano (thanks to the readers who pointed out the correct name of this herb! It’s sometimes easy to get confused when the guy at the plant nursery assures you he’s selling you something which it is, in fact, not 😁)

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This is another herb I appreciate primarily for its culinary uses. It’s great either chopped fresh or dried and crushed – thoroughly air-dried herbs will keep almost indefinitely, retaining most of their properties.

I love it in bread, chicken roast, soup, and much more.

5. Lemongrass

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I adore the way this plant looks – like a giant spiky tuft of grass. It makes delicious tea, which I love to drink while breastfeeding as, unlike mint and sage, it doesn’t negatively affect milk supply.

If you’re planning a garden, herbs are one of the best places to start. I would say that at the very least, climate permitting, you should have the trio of mint, sage, and rosemary. They are perennial, hardy, easy to grow, smell delicious, and repel insects – what’s not to love?