I had this idea six months ago — that our JCC would be quick out of the gate not only to get children in Washington D.C. vaccinated as soon as there was CDC approval to do so, but also to seize this as a moment to celebrate: DJ, Hula-Hoop contests, photobooth, sweet treats, food trucks and a whole lot of hoopla. After all, this was bound to be quite the momentous event, one we’ve been waiting on for what feels like forever.
So, while the scientists ran their trials and panels reviewed their findings, we found a partner in Safeway Pharmacy that took the leap of faith with us and we locked onto the dates of November 7 and November 28 for our COVID vaccination pop-up parties. We opened registration on October 15 and almost overnight, all available spots were filled. Yes, this community was ready to vaccinate their children.
This was a personal and a communal “Shehecheyanu moment” — the Jewish prayer recited over new experiences. (In fact, we even got Grammy-winning Jewish children’s artist Joanie Leeds to record her own version of the Shehecheyanu just for this occasion, which you can listen to here.)
The responses from these parents brought tears to my eyes. Our kids need this. And, so did we.
Yes, they are the lucky ones because they have made it this far and so many others have not, but still, they have missed out on so much. The social, emotional and even physical impact on children has been in many cases pretty awful.
Beyond wanting to reduce barriers to vaccination, the other motivating force behind our vaccination pop-ups was some initial hesitancy I was hearing from parents (who themselves were vaccinated), who wondered or worried about being early in line to take this step for their children. I was hopeful that the joy of these communal parties would generate enough positive momentum to inspire people to sign on early and get their children vaccinated. I never expected that we would have an impact on those who were squarely in the “anti-vax” camp, but hoped that we could sway those watching from the sidelines to “see if it was really safe.” And, I want to believe that each of the 400+ social media posts with their children’s newly vaccinated arms proudly on display and their “I GOT VAXXED @ THE EDCJCC” stickers will continue to generate momentum, confidence and readiness for others to get their children quickly in line at their upcoming school pop-up events, at their local pharmacy or in their pediatrician’s office.
The day was perfect. The sun was shining. Our supply of vaccines arrived with less than 24 hours to spare (phew!). The DJ did a quiet 8:30 a.m. soundcheck (careful not to wake our neighbors) and the families started rolling in. A team of five pharmacists and nurses vaccinated 55 children per hour. And close to 40 volunteers were at our side throughout the day to ensure that everything went smoothly: presenting cake pops to each newly vaccinated child, hula-hooping to distract the ones who needed something else to focus on before the needle went in their arms, passing out bubble-wands and popcorn — each extra touch that made this a day to remember. The entire event took place outside, in our parking lot, and at the end of the day, 400 children received their first dose of the vaccine. We’re expecting all (or most) to come back in three weeks for their second dose.
Yes, there were tears. Less because of the quick pinch in the arms but rather parents and children’s unbridled emotion of the moment. The children shared with us a long list of why this shot means so much to them:
- “Now I can hug my grandparents without worrying that I will get them sick”
- “Having friends over to my house for playdates…actually INSIDE!”
- “Getting on an airplane to see my not-so-new baby cousin in California”
- “Being able to play winter sports inside”
- “Dreaming of school without masks (someday!)”
It was also a moving day for me, personally. My daughter Benna is 10 years old and moved from NYC to Washington D.C. mid-pandemic.
She picks out her facemasks to match her outfits each day for school. She hasn’t seen the inside of a new friend’s house. She has set up an art room in our basement but so far, I have been her only “guest.” We’ve exhausted all of the age-appropriate content on Netflix (and then some!) and worked our way through the best take-out options in our new city.
As she sat down in that chair and rolled up her sleeve, I cried. And she cried.
“Baruch atah Adonai Elohanu Melech ha’olam shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu la’zman ha’zeh.”
Thank you God, thank you science, thank you doctors and nurses and teachers and caregivers. Thank you to our frontline workers and to our friends who endured mid-winter outdoor dinners. Thank you to our community for getting us to this point. Yes, we are some of the many lucky ones and yes, this moment feels like one well worth celebrating.
And, you can be sure, as soon as there is CDC approval for vaccinating our youngest children under 5, our JCC will adapt the party for those tiny tushies and be ready to celebrate with them too. Your moment is just around the corner, I hope. Optimism and science worked for us this time, so I got out my calendar and picked a date with our friends at Safeway. It never hurts to be ready, right?
This is what a community looks like. Being there for and with each other in moments of pain and in moments of celebration. This day seemed to adequately capture both the pain of the past 20 months and even more so, all of the joy that lies ahead.