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Treatment or Vaccine?

Friday, 28 February, 2020 - 2:56 pm

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, researchers, doctors and policymakers are scrambling to contain the disease. Preventing contagion seems to be a tall order at this point, with the novel virus spreading to more countries. The World Health Organization is now concerned that a global pandemic is possible. Even Wall Street has taken a hit.

In order to address this health concern, researchers are rushing in two different directions. Some are frantically trying to develop a treatment that can halt the disease in infected patients. Others are working on developing a vaccine to prevent infection.

Obviously, both medical interventions are critical. But, which will happen first?

Normally, treatments are much easier and quicker to develop than vaccines. However, an Israeli research lab claims that it already has the keys to a vaccine. The MIGAL Galilee Research Institute says it is only weeks away from clinical trials of a vaccine. That is a truly remarkable speed for a novel coronavirus first seen in humans within the last few months.

How did they do it so fast?

It turns out that this team of researchers were already working on a vaccine for a bird virus that has a similar genetic code. It infects individuals in the same way as the deadly new coronavirus in humans. All they need to do is modify it slightly to address the new COVID-19.

Because they already had been working on a vaccine for a disease that infects chickens, they are leaps ahead in dealing with the current outbreak.

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Shortly after the Jewish people received the Torah, G-d wished to dwell amongst them. Hashem commands the Jewish people in this week’s parsha Terumah to, “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”

This sanctuary would initially be a mobile unit, the Tabernacle. Later, it would find prominence in a fixed location, the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem. We pray many times daily for the reconstruction of the Beit Hamikdash, when G-d will once again have a home on earth, this time permanently.

This endeavor is so important that the Torah dedicates no less than five Torah portions to discuss every minute detail.

The truth is that this “home” for Hashem is something we all must build. Making our own homes and lives suitable for Hashem’s presence is the modern-day mandate of this Divine command. 

But, why does Hashem need a home to dwell in? I can understand that He wishes to dwell amongst us humans – in our communal and personal homes – fulfilling the purpose of Creation. By living a divinely-inspired life and observing His commandments, we partner with Hashem and make this world a dwelling place where Hashem is comfortable.

But, why the need for a home that is built specifically – in advance – for that purpose? Why can’t Hashem just show up in the places and activities that are sacred and feel comfortable in them? Why the need for a proactive and deliberate construction?

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Perhaps the response to the coronavirus can help us understand.

The reason that the Israeli team has a good chance of quickly bringing a vaccine to market is simply because they were already involved in the process. If they were only reacting to the spreading virus, they would be playing catch-up. Sadly, diseases move quicker than research and clinical trials. It would be unlikely that a vaccine could be developed in time to apply to this outbreak. That’s why the SARS and MERS outbreaks never resulted in treatment or vaccines. We humans – with all of our scientific know-how – simply could not work quickly enough.

By being in the arena, we already have a head start. Our thought processes are in the right place, our homework is mainly done and we have already been tested by our mistakes. We have already created an environment where success can emerge.

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Similarly, Hashem doesn’t only want us to ‘wake up’ and act with sacred purpose when the opportunities arise. He doesn’t want us to give charity simply when we are asked, or when we come across a homeless person. He doesn’t want our homes to have Jewish activities “when necessary,” such as at Chanukah and Pesach.

G-d desires a place where He is always comfortable. In a home, you can relax. You can be yourself. You can be spontaneous.

Hashem wants that our homes – and lives – should be His home. This means we need to work in advance to create an edifice where G-d can be comfortable – and spontaneous.

Developing a treatment is crucial. It’s also reactionary.

Developing a vaccine means creating an environment where viruses can’t successfully live.

Hashem wants us to create a holy environment for Him.

May the coronavirus quickly disappear. And, may our homes be replete with Jewish and holy activity, welcoming a divine appearance at any – and all – moments.

Comments on: Treatment or Vaccine?
3/1/2020

Kenneth Freeman wrote...

I've wondered how that Israeli agency got out of the gate so quickly with anything like a vaccine for clinical tests. Good to know.