ISJL Flu Fighters! Image courtesy Rachel Glazer

Southern, Jewish, Fighting Flu-ish

Why getting a flu shot can be a form of pikuach nefesh

For the past two years, I have organized an elite squad of virus-fighting renegades. We call ourselves The Flu Fighters.

Okay, okay, it’s not as exclusive as it sounds, and we’re not an alternative-rock cover band – although The Flu Fighters would be a great alternative rock cover band name. But seriously, each year as flu season approaches, I send out an email to the entire staff at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life inviting my coworkers to sign up for one of three field trips to a local pharmacy that provides free flu shots (with our health insurance) as well as an incentive coupon. I also offer an incentive: a shiny sticker for anyone who gets their vaccination.

I wish that my motivations for organizing this crew were purely altruistic, but as your friendly neighborhood immunocompromised coworker, I have ulterior motives.

While it is important for me to get my shot every flu season, it is just as vital that the people I share a space with also get vaccinated. Not only does this decrease the chance that the flu will make its way into the office and potentially past my body’s weakened defenses, but it also reduces the risk of a mutated strain developing in our community as a whole.

I see herd immunity, or the building up of our collective resistance, as a Jewish imperative. Pikuach nefesh means to save a life, and the Torah teaches us to uphold the preservation of life above all else. Yes, that means preserving life comes before my aversion to needles, the inconvenience of a long line at the pharmacy, and the confusing and controversial streams of misinformation about vaccines that pollute our social media feeds. It includes considering how our actions (or inaction) can have very real consequences. The double benefit is that we can protect ourselves and those around us with just a quick trip to the pharmacy.

While it is a challenge to track exactly how many people in the U.S. are immunocompromised, chances are you make contact with an individual like me daily. We have immune disorders, are being treated for cancer, are living with HIV and AIDS, are malnourished, are transplant recipients, take immunosuppressant medications, are elderly, or are newly born into this world. You see us at Shabbat services and Hebrew school. We reach for the same door handles at the grocery store and share pens at the bank.

Although I am able to receive these vaccinations safely, I am still at a higher risk than the average person my age to contract the flu. Seeing my immunocompetent coworkers step up and agree to get their shot to help protect me makes me feel doubly cared for. I am fortunate to live in a place and time in which I can be vaccinated against this common but insidious illness at low or no cost.

Every year around flu season, I am reminded that the people around me care enough about their own health and mine to take action. I receive texts and emails from Jewish friends, colleagues and even their family members from all around the country letting me they have gotten immunized. At the rate that our mighty team of heroic Flu Fighters is growing, it looks like I’ll need to expand my stash of stickers soon.

Be well this flu season!

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