At the end of December of the horrible year 2020, Israel’s Ministry of Health started its COVID-19 vaccine campaign. Its heroic branding was naturally influenced by Israeli war lingo. Thus, it was formally named—I kid you not—Operation Back to Life. The first to receive vaccines were the elderly, members of high-risk groups, and youngsters willing to waste a couple of hours and wait in line at the end of the vaccination day: It turns out that when all appointments are done, they’re usually stuck with a few extra doses that they can’t keep for the next day, so they vaccinate whoever is there. The rest of us in Israel wait for our turn. Part euphoric, part skeptical, part anxious, and part hopeful—we wait.
Here’s the diary I kept of my experience getting the vaccine, in Tel Aviv.
Friday, January 15
Up until now, vaccines were an old-folks game. But today they announced that starting next week, over 45s are eligible for the vaccine, too. This may very well be the first time in human history that 30-somethings envy over-45s (20-somethings probably don’t care). This truly is a strange time. And the moment the announcement was made, the race to get the soonest appointment for a vaccine began.
I remember thinking a few months ago that when the vaccine finally arrives it will be scary taking it, since it is so new. But now it’s here and all fear is gone. Either the vaccine education is really effective, or we are already so fed up and worn down of living for almost a year in this surreal depressing reality, that at this point fear is out the window. You just want it to be over.
Saturday, January 16
Word on the street (i.e, in the playground, where parents discuss COVID-19 while the kids climb the jungle gym) is you don’t have to wait until after the weekend to make an appointment. Israelis belong to one of four health maintenance organizations, and you can get an online appointment on the website or even the app of your Kupat Holim (that’s Hebrew for HMO). It’s not an easy process, especially not for an individual with obsessive-compulsive tendencies like myself. After all, there is much to consider. First, I check appointment availability in each of the many designated vaccination centers. Then I ponder if it’s best to get it done at the clinic close to home—which is nearby but small and therefore probably more crowded—or perhaps it’s safer to travel to the outskirts of the city, where they opened a large vaccination center, which I imagine to be much more ventilated. Then I consider if there are any dates that aren’t suitable for getting vaccinated—Zoom meetings and such. Then I check the weather forecast—I don’t want to get stuck in the rain and catch pneumonia during the 15 minutes I’ll need to wait outside after your vaccination while making sure I don’t develop an allergic reaction. While I carefully consider all of this, the available appointments are being snatched up faster than I can say severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. After an evening on the app, I managed to get my first vaccine appointment for Feb. 7 and the second one 22 days after. I was happy and texted all my friends with the fabulous news.
Sunday, January 17
Everyone is discussing on WhatsApp when and where they are getting vaccinated. I’m starting to get the feeling I got a raw deal. All my friends seem to have gotten earlier appointments than me. I’m telling myself that it’s better to wait a while to see if any of my friends drop dead after the second dose.
Thursday, January 21
If I see another photo of someone on social media getting their arm pricked, with some lame caption underneath, I’ll scream.
Saturday, January 23
Everybody is talking about the new coronavirus variants and mutations and speculations are high whether the vaccines are effective against them. My cautious euphoria is being replaced by mild panic. The most reassuring thing experts are saying is basically: If it doesn’t help, at least it won’t hurt.
Sunday, January 24
I’m feeling antsy and jealous of friends who already got their first shot. A friend tells me she called Maccabi Health Services and easily pushed her vaccine appointment forward, and I should try to do the same. She got an answer on the phone right away, I spent all morning on hold—but hey, in the end I managed to cancel my original appointment and get a new one only two days away. I’m pretty confident the vaccine is safe, and I laugh off the microchips and altered DNA conspiracy theories. One thing I’m not sure about, though, is: Will the vaccines actually work?
Monday, January 25
Tomorrow I’m getting my first vaccine. My strategy is the same as the one I opted for when having my scheduled C-section or having my kids circumcised: The less I know, the better. So, I don’t read up on the subject. I don’t even remember if we’re getting the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine—not that I know what the difference is. I don’t want to think about it too much or let myself have any second thoughts—best to jump right in. If there’s no water in the pool I’m screwed, but at least I’m not the only one.
Tuesday, January 26 (morning)
The big day has arrived. This is quite exciting, like I’m part of an historical event.
My vaccine is scheduled for 8:48 (really!) at Menora Mivtachim Arena located in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood of Tel Aviv, which before the pandemic hosted huge sporting and cultural events, and served as the home court for the Maccabi Tel Aviv Club. I remember seeing British synthpop duo The Pet Shop Boys there, and Rod Stewart. Now it’s a designated area for COVID-19 vaccinations: one side for members of Clalit Health Services, the other side for Maccabi Health Services.
My partner gave me a lift there on the back of his Vespa. We circle the arena, which now is surrounded by huge printed placards and billboards advertising each respective health care provider. It’s all very brand oriented. Inside the lobby—where not long ago you’d buy hot dogs and refreshments for a rock concert or a sporting event—they organized a makeshift vaccination center. You take a number and wait. When it got to my turn, I was expecting a certified nurse, probably Russian or Arab, like the ones who take your blood tests. Instead, I got a soldier. A shy 18- or 19-year-old kid in a shabby uniform was going to administer me this life-changing serum. He tells me that he’s about to give me the COVID-19 vaccine—either it’s legal protocol or he thinks I’m not too bright. Then he asks me a couple of questions, details possible side effects, and lets me know that after my second visit to the Menora Mivtachim Arena, in three weeks’ time, I’ll be 100% vaccinated. “At least for some of the mutations,” I weakly say, in hope of reassurance. “Yeah,” he disappoints.
The shot itself didn’t hurt too bad. Plus, we met Dov (an old friend) there accidentally, and the three of us had a lovely time catching up in the sun outside while waiting for the 15 minutes you’re supposed to wait afterward. It was so nice we stayed an extra 30 minutes and even went shopping at the adjacent drugstore—one of the only shops open during lockdown (we’re on our third one at the moment). I bought leopard printed socks, we laughed and laughed, and it all felt like a montage scene in an American teen movie. The three of us actually have been at the Menora Mivtachim Arena together before: We were here in June 2018, at a Ringo Starr concert. It was a pretty awful show, so all things considered I must say that this time around was much more exciting.
Tuesday, January 26 (afternoon)
Mild headache. It could be a vaccine side effect. On the other hand, it could be the kids screaming all day (one of the side effects of lockdown, meaning no school). I’d say it’s about 50/50.
Wednesday, January 27
My left arm hurts a bit when I move it at a certain angle. I move it in that exact angle every hour or so, to see if the pain is still there. It gives me a weird sense of calm, like it means the vaccine is taking effect and protecting me from all evil.
Thursday, February 4
They’ve been gradually lowering the vaccination age and today they officially opened up vaccines for every citizen over 16.
I haven’t written in a while because the last days were uneventful, but today I’m angry. I’m angry at people who aren’t getting vaccinated “yet,” and sit back to wait and see what happens to all us guinea pigs, instead of participating in the collective effort to reach the percentage of vaccinated needed to take over the virus. I’m angry at the anti-vaccine propagandists shouting through megaphones under my window at 10 p.m. I’m angry at people who call these wackos “anti-vaxxers,” like they’re some sort of underground rave DJ collective. I’m angry at myself for the fact that sometimes, for a panicky split-second, I fear that they might be right, and we might be wrong.
Thursday, February 11
The third lockdown is sort of over. Schools reopened today in some areas. Our school and kindergarten reopened but we decided to keep the kids at home for the time being, until both of us—their parents—are fully vaccinated and home free.
Saturday, February 13
The hot topic these last few days: second vaccine side effects. Everyone is sharing war stories of their second dose aftermath. I’ve heard of everything from “nothing” or “some mild arm pain” to weeklong migraines, nausea, shivers, flu symptoms, wooziness, and acid-flashbacks. It’s three days before my second vaccine and I’m hoping for the best.
Tuesday, February 16 (morning)
It’s the day of my second dose. My appointment is at 8:08, in the same place as the first. The whole experience is like a rerun of the first time, except this time we didn’t meet Dov and I got a girl-soldier vaccinator. After it’s over she tells me that I will get a text message from my health care provider informing me to download a certificate confirming that I am fully vaccinated. And a week from today I will be eligible for a Green Passport, issued by the Ministry of Health.
It seems the details of the whole Green Passport business haven’t been fleshed out yet. On the news they said that vaccinated people, as well as those holding an official Recovery Certificate, will have to download an app that will enable them to enter gyms, restaurants, concerts, cinemas, etc., when those will reopen. But for the time being, there are more questions than answers: When will this happen? How will they prevent Green Passport forgery? How will they prevent business owners letting people without passports in?Is it legal to withhold basic rights from unvaccinated citizens? Is it moral not to get vaccinated?
Tuesday, February 16 (midnight)
I felt fine all day and was sure I dodged the side-effect bullet. At about 11 p.m. I started to feel lousy, and lousy soon turned into pretty awful. Now it’s midnight and I feel like I have the flu. My body aches, I’m shivering cold and I want to throw up. Then again, I did have a suspicious smelling takeaway crab bisque for lunch.
Wednesday, February 17 (afternoon)
I woke up today feeling much better, but still so-so. During the day, stomach aches, nausea, and tiredness came and went. The whole thing reminded me of being pregnant—anything weird you feel during those nine months, you never know if it’s due to your pregnancy or totally unrelated.
Thursday, February 18
I feel fine again. Being sick for one day and one night really isn’t so bad. Today my better half got his second shot. He belongs to Clalit Health Services, and they got blue and green Awareness Wristbands with the Clalit logo saying “I also got vaccinated for the coronavirus” and a free post-vaccine cappuccino.
The big question now is how life will change. When will we go back to normal? According to the rules, even those who are vaccinated still need to social distance and wear masks. The FAQ page of the Ministry of Health website explains the reason: “Vaccination alone is insufficient due to a lack of information on whether vaccination prevents infection or not.” That’s no fun, and not very reassuring. Especially for those of us who are parents to kids under 16, who at the moment don’t get vaccinated.
Friday, February 19
This is the last entry in my vaccine diary. It feels a bit random. Nothing has changed yet. On one hand I’m hopeful that soon life will change for the better (suddenly I dare not say, go back to normal). On the other hand, it’s a bit of an anti-climax. I don’t feel the magical life-changing relief I was hoping for.
I tell myself it’s too soon to tell. I tell myself that soon, really soon, life will start improving. I just have to wait for two weeks to pass from my second dose (they say that’s when it really kicks in), and to wait that enough people get vaccinated. I’m not sure what about the kids, so I try not to think about that.
I tell myself that now that I got my two shots, things will start changing. I don’t dare hope for the big things yet, like going on holiday abroad or that my better half’s band starts touring again. But I do hope for the little things. I tell myself that soon we will go out to bars, restaurants, and the movies again, that soon we will invite people over for dinner again, that soon I won’t be afraid to take the bus, that soon I won’t be on the verge of a panic attack every time the aisle at the supermarket gets a bit crowded, that soon I will have a reason to take off my pajamas and get dressed. I really hope I’m right.
Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.