History in the Making: Israel’s Campaign to Vaccinate as Told by 5 UH Medics

 

United Hatzalah medics continue to take an active lead in Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Last Saturday evening, the cover story of BBC World News featured a photograph of United Hatzalah medic Shira Hershkop administering a dose to one of Israel’s elderly.

 The headline was titled, “Israel leads virus vaccine race with 12% given jab” 

Currently, the vaccination efforts in Israel are going faster than any other country in the world, with the goal to get 5.2 million people vaccinated by the end of March. Israel’s HMOs have contracted United Hatzalah to help them with the effort by providing the man/woman-power of our volunteers.

The moment I saw the photograph of Shira Hershkop, I understood that United Hatzalah is currently at the forefront of history like never before. I felt proud to personally know many of our medics.

I first wrote Shira right away to congratulate her on her efforts! Then expanded to contacting a few other medics, who each kindly took a 15-minute break from giving vaccines to speak with me, as well as the Director of Operations of United Hatzalah, Moshiko Moskowitz.

This was no small effort, as they are currently vaccinating anywhere from 70-130 people per day. There were always patients asking questions in the background while we spoke. 

Below I share my short conversations with these amazing United Hatzalah medics.

Shira Hershkop, Beitar Illit 

There were a lot of photographers from global news organizations around during the first week of the vaccination program, so we didn’t always ask what publication they were from. All of a sudden, last Saturday evening, everyone was sending me the photograph from the BBC. I had no idea it was going to be published there!

I have been a medic with United Hatzalah for the last year and a half, but I also have been doing photography for the organization for about four years now.  

It is really amazing to see all the elderly come in to get vaccinated, and they truly feel a part of history. They want their picture taken, and it is exciting to see their cooperation with us. 

Mainly, they want to meet their families again. Some haven’t seen their grandchildren in such a long time. Many haven’t left their houses in so long.  I vaccinated someone aged 101 this week.

Everyday is different on the ground. I am based at the Arena, a sports stadium in Jerusalem.  Today I vaccinated 70 so far. Last week I did 130 in one day. 

I am really, really proud to be a part of this moment in history, and I hope this will finally get us out of the lockdown! 

Estie Goodman, Old City (Jerusalem)

I am a mother of 6 living in the Old City of Jerusalem, and currently giving vaccines in Maale Adumim. I am part of the Women’s Unit and have been volunteering for the last year and a half. It is a small world, as I graduated from the same EMT course as Shira Hershkop!

At first, I wasn’t sure about giving vaccines. I was nervous. It is such a new vaccine. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of it.

Now that I started giving the vaccines on 5-hour shifts each day, I see that every single person we have been vaccinating really, really needs it.

These are people who haven’t left their house in months.  People who are suffering from depression at home. They are rushing up to us, crying to us. It is so emotional because they finally feel like they are going to see the end of this. 

Last week I had one elderly couple who came in, and it was so sad because the night before their son-in law in New York died of Covid -19. They haven’t left the house in months, and they couldn’t see any hope. But now, after getting the vaccine, they really see the light at the end of the tunnel.  

Many of the elderly who come in keep giving us their  blessings. We don’t stop getting brachas!

As of now the HMO’s  have opened more centers, but the first week I was vaccinating anywhere from 75-105 people in 5 hours. We had people coming in from as far as Kibbutz Ein Gedi. 

All the United Hatzalah medics got additional training because we had to learn how to make the vaccine ready, which basically means to dilute it. For each vile we need to add a saline solution, which makes 5-6 vaccines. 

What surprised me in a good way was that we don’t only vaccinate the population over 60. We also vaccinate all the forgein workers who take care of the elderly. When someone comes in who qualifies for a vaccine, and their worker comes with them, we vaccinate them right away. Or, if their child is the primary caregiver, they can also get vaccinated. As long as they are over the age of 16.

I really, really do feel a part of history. 

Ahmad Asila, Kafr ‘Aqab 

 I am really proud that I am part of United Hatzalah, and have been volunteering for the last two years. 

Not only did I want to be part of the first to give the vaccines, but I am also a taxi driver by profession and my work has been really slow. Therefore, I have had even more time to join the program.

I am here at the Sport’s Arena in Jerusalem, and many people are coming to receive the vaccine and they are really happy. Everyone is so thankful to finally move on from this pandemic.  They tell me they have been waiting for this day for such a long time. 

In Israel, all Jews and Arabs over the age of 60 have gotten the vaccine. This is under my eyes. Everyday I open the list of appointments and see many Arab families. Often, they need me to speak Arabic to specific people. They call me and ask me to help them, or that I myself give them the vaccine.

This is historic. Something like this only happens every 100 years. 

Moshiko Moskowitz, Director of Operations- United Hatzalah

How our vaccination program works is that we have agreements with the Israel HMOs. They need to vaccinate thousands of people per day. We supply them the man/woman-power to do the vaccinations for the HMOs.

So far we have 300 volunteers from all over the country who registered for the program. About 100 of them are women and 40 of them are from the Arab population. 

Our medics really feel part of the national effort. The effort to fight the pandemic that we have been suffering so much from in the last year. 

We feel this is a part of our mission, our “shlichut”. Even though I am running this program, this vaccination effort is not the same as any other job. It is a different drive. 

The proof of this is that many people who have a regular job, are still coming to take a part.

As the person who started United Hatzalah’s Humanitarian Mission that has been running since the first lockdown, in which we distributed toys and medicine during the beginning of the outbreak, and is still conducting COVID-19 tests and patients transports the to the corona hotels, there is something very emotional in all this. That by being a part of the vaccination program, it is as if we are closing the circle. 

We have started the mission and finished the mission.

Shimi Kopolovits, Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem)

I have been volunteering with United Hatzalah for more than 10 years, and because I am a Registered Nurse, I am also helping out with the training.

There is special training for the COVID-19 vaccines. Usually vaccines come ready to administer, but this vaccine doesn’t. It comes frozen and once you take it out of the freezer it can only last for 5 days in the fridge. If it goes over 5 days in the fridge, you need to discard it.

It then comes from the fridge to us, where it can be in room temperature for only 2 hours. However, once we put the saline inside, it can stay out for 6 hours. 

Up until now, I have taught our first responders how to do things in a specific order. 

I show them how to manage the computer system, then where to get all the supplies from. The needles. The syringes. You need to prepare the vial with saline, and then sterilize the equipment.

Not commonly discussed, but I also teach them what to say to the client, and how to say it. For example we don’t use the word shot. We use the word vaccine, because it is less frightening. 

Also, we are not allowed to give vaccines to anyone under 16. So one of the questions we need to ask is, “How old are you?” I told the people I was training to always ask the elderly clients if they are over age 16. 

It gives them a really good feeling. It breaks the ice. They all say yes, I am 21! I am 19! With a smile, of course.  

Overall, our main emphasis right now is to give the elderly people the vaccine and do it as humanly as possible. We want them to feel good, to be outside again, and to get their life back.

Throughout my years of volunteering with United Hatzalah, I have been a part of a lot of big operations, like in Meron each Lag B’Omer and the blizzard of 2013 in Jerusalem. But nothing has compared to this. This is something new. 

You know, one day it was snowing and no one could go out of their house, and some people lost power. That is it. 

This is really a piece of history.

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United Hatzalah is certainly taking an active role in making history and continues to be part of the campaign to vaccinate Israel’s citizens.

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