The promise of vaccines for the coronavirus

America is moving to the edge of a new frontier in the battle against the coronavirus as the availability of therapeutic vaccines is only weeks away.

“It’s been a long journey, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Ed Septimus, an infectious disease specialist, explained to the Jewish Herald-Voice in an exclusive interview.

Like other American medical experts, Dr. Septimus estimates that the earliest that a large segment of America’s population will have access to vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna will be in April or May 2021.

As The Washington Post reported in late November, “scientists still don’t know how long vaccine-induced protection will last, for example, whether or not inoculations can block actual infection, or only prevent the onset of the disease. If the latter turns out to be the case, meaning the vaccines keep us from getting sick, but not infected, we still could be infectious to others.”

So, to be safe, Americans will need to continue to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands frequently, and take other precautions until vaccines are administered to 70% to 75% of the population to achieve herd immunity, as estimated by Dr. Septimus.

Some Americans have been skeptical about whether or not it is safe to take a vaccine when it becomes available.

In an article published in the New York Post, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale wrote that Judaism “underscores the importance of seeking out experts in their particular fields to help communities navigate challenges. If the science says it’s helpful to take the vaccine, we should do so.”

Rabbi Weiss quoted the late Viktor Frankl, an eminent psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Rabbi Weiss noted that Dr. Frankl taught “that what motivates people is the search for meaning. Frankl argues that is true not only in good times but in dire times, even in moments of suffering.”

Dr. Frankl taught that meaning in life is derived from three sources: purposeful work, love, and courage when confronting difficulty. So, as we confront the coronavirus and its deleterious impact on our lives, we can derive meaning by having courage and rekindling our hope that as vaccines are taken by millions of Americans, the disease will ultimately abate and our lives will improve.

The coronavirus has felled more than 1.5 million individuals worldwide. In America, more than 283,000 have perished from this awful scourge.

As American Jews, we can rely upon medical science and experts like Dr. Septimus and other highly-skilled physicians and scientists to show us the path toward a renewal of health and spirit in these challenging times.

And, we can remember the teachings of Viktor Frankl, who extracted a deep sense of self-worth from surviving the savagery of Nazi concentration camps. 

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way,” Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Just as Viktor Frankl’s concentration camp experience illuminated Man’s most fundamental power to choose one’s attitude, the coronavirus has thrust upon us the power to choose how we will live in the coming weeks and months as vaccines are introduced in America.

The most important power that each of us has is to comprehend that God has bestowed upon us the gift of life, and to understand that we are part of our local community that is part of America and the world.

Dr. Frankl wrote that the survivors of Auschwitz and other concentration camps that he endured were not necessarily the most physically fit, but those who had hope and faith. May the spirit of hope and personal sense of faith be renewed as we welcome vaccines that will stem the terrible toll that the coronavirus has taken upon how we live and survive the challenges it has thrust upon us.

The vaccines offer great hope that there will be an end to the vicissitudes of the virus. Through the dedicated efforts of teams of doctors, scientists and willing participants for vaccine trials, let us renew our hope that the effects of the coronavirus will not vanquish us.

May our hope sustain all of us as vaccines become available to enable the world to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

This editorial appeared in the Dec. 10 edition of the Jewish Herald-Voice and is reprinted with permission.

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