What it's like

(Courtesy of Christie Moore)

(JTA) — When Christie Moore rolled up her sleeve to get her COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week, many thoughts went through her mind. Among them: a set of Jewish blessings that rabbis suggested for the occasion.

I knew this because Moore shared the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s roundup of rabbinic suggested blessings when she tweeted her vaccine selfie. So I reached out to Moore, a medical oncologist in Portland, Oregon, to learn more about her experience getting vaccinated.

We talked about the blessing she ended up making, how COVID-19 changed her relationship with her Judaism and what she would tell people who might be concerned about getting the vaccine.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. A bracha is a Hebrew word that means blessing.

JTA: Can you take me through what getting the vaccine was like?

Moore: In my organization, we filled out an online tool to determine our eligibility for the vaccination and our interest in getting it. It is not mandatory for our health system, but obviously they would like for everyone to do it. I don’t know anyone who’s not excited about getting it. 

All of our major hospitals are doing vaccinations in-house, so I just showed up at our conference room, which was like a well-oiled machine. I think they’re starting at 6 a.m. and going until like 10 p.m. or so to catch people on multiple different shifts. I filled out some preliminary paperwork about medical history, in terms of whether I had any prior severe allergic reactions to other vaccines. And then the whole thing happened so fast. 

They had this entire auditorium full of people administering vaccines, so I walked over to the next person, rolled up my sleeve and 60 seconds later it was done. It was very quick and easy. Then they had seats in the auditorium, spaced in a socially distanced fashion, so that we could sit for 15 minutes being observed to make sure there was no reaction.

Was it painful?

It was exactly like getting a flu shot, except in my opinion, it was less painful than a flu shot. It’s a very tiny needle, and it’s just a quick intramuscular injection. 

Did you feel any aftereffects in the hours later?

I actually didn’t. I got the Moderna vaccine and I have colleagues who have gotten the Pfizer vaccine. The side effects I’ve heard of from my friends who have been vaccinated have all been really quite mild. 

The only side effect I have a day later is really mild tenderness in my upper arm, where the injection was administered. I find this to have been less problematic than the annual flu shot that I get every year and encourage everyone else to get.

Did you make a bracha?

Rabbi [David] Wolpe had suggested three different brachot, but the experience was so fast that I had the opportunity to say shehecheyanu and that was it.

Do you have any ideas about why so many people are connecting to this vaccination on a more spiritual level than a flu shot?

I have a lot of feelings about it! To think that this particular variant of a coronavirus was identified a year ago, and I’m getting vaccinated now, is an absolute marvel. It is a total testament to the researchers and the scientists and, in my opinion, most importantly the clinical trial participants who were brave enough to sign up to make this possible. 

I’m an oncologist, I take care of cancer patients, I’m kind of a feelings-type person, but I just think if something like this doesn’t make you pause and and want to say a bracha, I’m not sure really what would.

What would you say to people who are concerned about getting the vaccine?

I think the trial data is robust and I think that the vaccines have been thoroughly vetted and they are safe. And I think this is absolutely the best thing that we can do to try to regain some sense of normalcy. 

Prior to vaccination, you know what was COVID-19 like for you?

I didn’t get COVID, which I’m so grateful for. I have 8-year-old twins, and my partner is also an oncologist, so we are in and out of the hospital all the time. It’s been highly anxiety-provoking. I am extremely grateful to be getting this vaccination and to be able to continue working with less fear about potentially bringing this home to my children.

My parents live in Colorado, and we haven’t been able to see them at all. We are completely on lockdown because my patients are all immunocompromised. I just can’t think of anything worse than becoming a vector for giving this to my children or my patients, so there is just this overwhelming sense of relief I think that we all feel about being able to get vaccinated.

How would you say the Jewish community in Portland has weathered this pandemic?

I would actually say extremely well. Our Jewish Federation raised a lot of money for people affected, and I think there was a lot of community investment and buy-in in supporting the community. I’m a member of Congregation Beth Israel and I think the rapid pivot to online has been totally amazing. The sense of community that has been able to be maintained has been really pretty, pretty incredible. 

Honestly, the one thing that I am taking away, more than anything from the pandemic, is I’m just so grateful for online Judaism because I couldn’t participate in morning minyan [prayer service] before the pandemic because of my work schedule. I could never go to a morning minyan here, because I always had to be at work by then. But now I do morning minyan at five o’clock in the morning here at B’nai Jeshurun in New York. It’s opened up this opportunity for me to have this incredible daily prayer practice that I would not have had if it hadn’t been for the pandemic so it’s the one bright, bright part of it for me. 

How has the pandemic changed your relationship with Jewishness?

Minyan is just such a grounding thing that has made this so much more tolerable for me. Normally we’re out traveling and doing a million things all the time and this has saved my sanity in many ways. We were super involved in our synagogue here before this happened, but the accessibility of online Judaism is sort of taking it to another level for me, to just realize how much more I can participate in.

Is there anything fun that you’re looking forward to doing when all this is over?

I’m taking my kids to see their grandparents. My dad is also a practicing physician and just knowing that we’re all safe and able to actually be together in each other’s homes again, that’s what I’m most excited about.