Why Being a Rabbi Led Me to Participate in the Novavax Vaccine Trial

February 11, 2021

By Rabbi Uri Topolosky (’05), for Washington Jewish Week

For two years in a row, our congregation has concluded Yom Kippur under the stars — this past year due to COVID, and the year before after a 3-year-old boy pulled the fire alarm with 20 minutes left in Neilah. Both experiences were surprisingly beautiful and profound.

I actually prayed for months after that first, exhilarating, outdoor Neilah for the wisdom to convince our synagogue board to do it again. I half joked the second time around that it was all my fault — I had prayed too hard.

I was thinking about that prayer toward the end of last summer, as the pandemic was trudging along, wondering how to frame a High Holiday message of resilience and hope for the congregation.

As their rabbi, I had been wrestling with how best to serve and lead. We had reopened the synagogue, albeit outdoors, in masks and socially distant, but not everyone returned. We offered classes and programs online, but Zoom fatigue and parental exhaustion were real. I was teaching outdoors, but the summer heat (and now the cold) and COVID anxiety limited those opportunities. One-on-one engagement was most gratifying, but so many were still falling through the cracks.

That was when I decided to enroll in the Novavax COVID vaccine trial, hoping to do my small part, along with 30,000 other subjects, to help science give us the next step forward. This decision was especially gratifying with the recent news that the vaccine has an efficacy rate of nearly 90 percent.

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