Forty three years ago, on January 15, 1977, my father Samuel Hyman Goldstein passed away at the onset of a swine flu outbreak. The government and public health community feared a greater public health crisis and quickly developed, approved and heavily promoted a vaccine. Too quickly: My father died as a result of this vaccine.
Beyond the fact that my father was taken too soon that day, the circumstances of that time echo loudly today. An outbreak of a virus; today a global pandemic. The comparisons to previous battles against communicable viruses: The 1918 global Spanish flu, but today SARS and MERS. A hotly contested and divisive presidential election. A quickly developed and approved vaccine.
Like me, my father, was immunocompromised. He was as a quadriplegic survivor of Guillain-Barre syndrome. I am a type I diabetic. But while our diseases are different, his concerns in taking a vaccine as an individual, a husband and a father were no different than those I contemplate today.
He and my mother had to weigh his personal risk against the best information they had. Would it protect him, as someone who could scarcely tolerate a cold given his weakened upper body? Yes. Based upon the vaccination campaign did they have confidence in its effectiveness? Yes again. Were they doing the best thing for their family, with a two-year-old son? Yes, they decided.
What they soon learned was that their best efforts and careful consideration had the worst possible outcome. About a month after taking the swine flu vaccine, my father was afflicted with an almost unheard of second instance of Guillain-Barre syndrome, from which he would not recover. Within a month he was dead.
But the result does not call into question his choice. Not for me. How were they to have known? More relevant to today, how am I to evaluate eerily similar circumstances, forty three years later, with my own family – wife, daughter and son – including my father’s youngest grandchild, also named Sam?
As an observant Jew, I seek guidance from Jewish law and tradition. This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion Yitro, where the answer seems plain as day to me. In the ten commandments we are told, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may long endure on the land that the Lord your God is assigning to you.”
I plan on honoring him by not only protecting myself, but the community at large. So, I’ll be first in line on February 15 when the immunocompromised in New York State are given permission to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Craig M. Goldstein is chief marketing officer of the Orthodox Union.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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