By Stephanie Goodling
On Sunday, Feb. 21, the Jewish Federation’s Maimonides Society presented a Brunch@Home entitled “Vaccines: History, Ethics and COVID-19” via Zoom. Dr. Bill Markson, Maimonides Society president, introduced the program with a brief synopsis of the origins of vaccinations and the word itself. He then introduced the panel of three speakers.
Dr. Hilary Koprowski III, a local ear, nose and throat specialist, shared the impressive biography of his grandfather, after whom he was named. The elder Koprowski fled Europe during World War II and came to the United States via Brazil, where he first started his work as a virologist. He went on to demonstrate the world’s first effective live Polio vaccine and revolutionize The Wistar Institute on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.
In regards to what it was like to grow up with such a scientific legend as a grandfather, Koprowski said, “There's lots you take for granted as a child, like, oh, everybody's grandfather knows eight languages! But, he never saw himself as smarter than anybody else. He knew he worked hard, but he thought this was natural for absolutely anybody.”
Next was Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, senior vice president of medical and academic affairs and chief emeritus of infectious disease at St. Luke’s University Health Network. He gave an update on the current state of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in the Lehigh Valley and the state of Pennsylvania at large. He explained that while we are still in Phase 1A and experiencing vaccine shortages across the country, he still encouraged everyone to sign up with their respective healthcare providers to get on this list and be alerted as soon as it is their turn.
“Please make sure you get your second dose,” Jahre emphasized, noting that that is the only way to achieve T-cell immunity.
The third and final presenter was Rabbi Moshe Re’em of Temple Beth El, who offered some insight into vaccines in regards to Jewish law. Citing many other rabbis who have published thoughts on the subject, Re’em told the audience that the law is clear about doing what you can to prevent harm to yourself and others, and therefore getting vaccines for diseases such as COVID-19.
As for the ethical distribution of the currently limited supply of vaccines, Re’em added the importance of “treating people equally, favoring the worse off, maximizing the total social benefit ... And as for the very important issue of cutting in line, using personal connections, influence or finance to do so is forbidden.”
Attendees were able to address all three panelists for a Q&A session, where questions ranged from more about Koprowski’s life to practical advice on what to do after you’ve gotten the vaccine.
Federation President Gary Fromer closed the event by saying, “I’ve come out of this event incredibly optimistic, perhaps the most optimistic I’ve been in the last year. We live in a community that has got great leadership from a healthcare perspective, including many attendees here.”
Watch a replay of the presentation here: