It is hard to remember a time when the lights of our Chanukah menorahs carried as poignant a message as they do in this tumultuous year. Night by night, as we add another candle to those we light in celebration, we propose to add a contemporary twist to the rabbinic gloss on the significance of our candle lighting ritual. We suggest that the nightly ritual of adding lights also reflects the increase in our concern for one another, as our world has joined in the epic struggle to overcome the COVID-19 virus.
Our lives have changed. We have gone from cherishing moments together to fearing them. Every aspect of our community and family lives has been impacted. And we have all had more than enough. On the eve of Chanukah, we learned that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Like the celebration of Chanukah, the vaccines being developed against COVID-19 promise light, joy and redemption. But even in that optimism, the situation remains fraught. While we are all susceptible to the coronavirus, we cannot all be the first in line to receive the vaccine. If, as seems to have been wisely determined, health care workers and the frailest of the elderly will receive the first U.S. injections, how will the vaccine be delivered to them? And what happens next?
There are approximately 3 million residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the U.S., and millions more elderly at high risk living at home. Estimates of the number of essential workers vary. For purposes of vaccine priority, the category will have to be narrowed. Even so, the number will be large. The orchestration and coordination of a two-shot vaccine (with varying requirements for storage, shipment and delivery) will be an immense undertaking, albeit achievable. But what about everyone else?
Once the vaccines are available to the public, will there be enough takers to produce herd immunity, thereby allowing us all to resume life without the fear of another crisis? According to the Mayo Clinic, some 70% of the population needs to have COVID-19 antibodies in order to interrupt the spread of the virus. But a November Gallup poll indicated that more than 40% of Americans say they will not take the vaccine for a number of reasons, including the fear that the cure may be worse than the disease.
Those opposing vaccines include members of minority communities that have been victimized by past inoculation campaigns, and dogmatic anti-vaxxers who stubbornly believe that they and their advisors know better than the scientific community. The job of educating the population regarding the need for and efficacy of the vaccine seems as challenging as discovering and delivering the pandemic cure itself.
Let’s use the inspiration of Chanukah to help spread the light of knowledge and understanding of the safety and effectiveness of our vaccine protocols, and do everything we can to help all of our communities participate in the life-saving program of the coronavirus cure.