“I ran to get vaccinated,” Niva of Tel Aviv said in a telephone interview about health problems that occurred immediately after her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Israel. “I waited with baited breath. I came from a world in which you don’t doubt vaccines.”
She even skipped the line for her age group (40-50) to get the jab.
“Symptoms appeared already right after the vaccination,” she said. They included severe hand, neck and back pain. “From moment to moment, day to day, new symptoms came, or they got worse, or they changed …Tingling turned to numbing; numbing turned to pain. It spread to my toes, then to all of my feet.”
She hoped they would pass, since COVID vaccine symptoms were widely advertised to be “mild and temporary.” When the time came for the second dose, she went to the vaccination center, mainly to speak with the on-site physician about her suspected side effects. She noted that neither he nor the nurse reported her symptoms to the Ministry of Health. Nevertheless, the doctor made some calls.
“And he was so happy to tell me: ‘You can get another vaccine.’ I said: ‘That wasn’t my question. I wasn’t coming for permission. I wanted to know why it’s happening.’ And he said: ‘How should I know?’ And he was mean about it. And I said, ‘What should I do?’ And he said: ‘Get another vaccine.’ And I asked: ‘What if it makes my situation worse?’ And he said, ‘There’s a hospital nearby. You can go to the hospital.’ I was shocked. He didn’t care.”
Niva continued: “That morning I was crying in the shower from pain. I couldn’t even tilt my head back to wash my hair, and this man just says: ‘Just go to the hospital.’ As if my life were a game. I said: ‘What are you talking about? I’m in such pain. Is that your answer?’ He shouted at me: ‘If you don’t want to get vaccinated then what are you doing here? You’re wasting my time.’ I owe this man a lot. Because he was so obnoxious, he made me get up and leave and not get a second vaccine.”
What followed were weekly visits to doctors and specialists over the course of a year. As a freelancer, Niva couldn’t work or collect any unemployment or disability benefits during that time. She asked for her identity to be kept private; she doesn’t want her medical history available online to prospective employers.
Niva is part of a growing community of people in Israel, and worldwide, who suspect or have been confirmed with a severe adverse event (SAE) from the COVID vaccine, but which they often dub “vaccine injuries.”
Judging from dozens of anecdotes posted on the 42,000 member-strong Facebook group dedicated to the possibly “injured,” medical professionals in Israel are quick to dismiss any connection between the vaccine and sudden health concerns, which include mild symptoms like coughing and vaginal bleeding to serious ones like heart attack, stroke, and even sudden death of a loved one.
I posted a call for interviews, and “Odelia” reached out to me, with more questions than answers. A week and a half since his “booster” shot, her boyfriend is suffering from pain, burning and tingling sensations, as well as trembling throughout various parts of his body. He manages to sleep only four hours a night.
“We’re going through a sea of doctors,” she said. “Some say that it’s a ‘panic attack.’ It’s a desperate situation because he still doesn’t feel well. On the one hand, maybe it’s from the vaccine; on the other hand, you think maybe it’s something psychiatric. It’s so unclear, unfortunately.”
Since that frightful day at the vaccination center, Niva’s health deteriorated to include tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hypercsusis (hypersensitivity to noise), vertigo, dizziness, shortness of breath, inability to concentrate, and memory loss. One doctor dismissed her symptoms as the result of stress, another to a panic attack. Finally, exam after exam, scan after scan, she was diagnosed with small fiber neuropathy, an autoimmune disease of the peripheral and autonomous nervous system.
Finally, doctors pinpointed the vaccine. As a precaution, she received a certificate of exemption from further COVID doses. She is not eligible for Israel’s Green Pass, which affords fully vaccinated Israelis full participation in Israeli life; instead, she’s entitled to free tests.
“I’m very fortunate because a lot of people I know don’t have a name for what they have because their tests are all good, so they start questioning themselves,” she said. “So I’m very lucky because I have a severe condition. At least I get serious treatment when I go to doctors.”
But at what point can anecdotes be admissible as evidence of a vaccine side effect?
According to Dr. Joel Kaye, an immunologist and head researcher at an Israeli pharmaceutical company as well as a volunteer at Midaat, an Israeli vaccine advocacy organization, it takes a certain mass of reported events that occurred in proximity to the vaccine to rule out a coincidence. This number must also be compared to the number of similar conditions reported in previous years for the same age group.
Based on these calculations, myocarditis, inflammation around the heart, emerged as a bona-fide side effect of the Pfizer vaccine.
“Initially, it was anecdotal until there were enough cases that there was a signal that it was significant enough for the health authorities to investigate,” Kaye said. “And now we know it’s a known, very rare side effect of the vaccine.”
At the start of the vaccination campaign, however, Israel’s reporting mechanisms were flawed, preventing the efficient gathering of data. The Health Ministry website offered only a “multiple choice” style of reporting listing only common, anticipated side effects, like headache, fever, and fatigue. It has since been updated to include a field for personal details in case of follow-up as well as an empty field for a freestyle description of possible side effects. However, it is less detailed and transparent than the United States’ “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System,” (VAERS).
Kaye believes any and all reports should be taken seriously.
“It should be investigated,” Kaye said. “It should be ruled whether it’s related or not related. Having said that, many so-called severe reactions have nothing to do with the vaccine. It’s coincidental. A matter of timing.”
One independent grassroots Israeli organization, however, believes vaccine injuries in Israel have gone vastly underreported due to negligence at best and purposeful suppression at worst. Founded by a group of health professionals, attorneys and concerned citizens, the People’s Committee has collected over 4,700 testimonies of people claiming serious and even fatal injuries immediately since being inoculated. The viral Israeli-made documentary, “The Testimonies Project,” drew from this pool to tell the sad tales of 40 Israelis who believe the vaccine caused them, collectively, a range of severe cardiac, blood, neurological, auto-immune, and skin problems.
“Israel was chosen to be the test lab country and data was supposed to go out to the world and it’s not going out,” said Limor Paraira, a businesswoman by profession and head of the People’s Committee documentation team. “The data that goes out is mostly good.”
On November 28, the People’s Committee submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court to appoint an independent commission to investigate the matter to avoid any conflict of interest. She cannot claim to know why the Health Ministry would behave with lack of transparency regarding health complaints possibly related to the jab.
“There are many theories branded as conspiracies,” she said. “But there’s an interest in pushing this experimental vaccine.”
In request for comment on the “Testimonies Project” and the matter of adverse effects, the Ministry of Health’s Corona division spokesperson characterized the film’s editing as “partisan” and could therefore not comment on the health cases it described.
“Adverse events after vaccination are reported to the Public Health Services’ Epidemiology Division of the Ministry of Health, which reviews the reports and analyzes the data,” read the statement. “If the report involves hospitalization, a serious illness, or a fatality, it is followed up by the Risk Management Committee appointed by the Ministry of Health Director General. If the Committee suspects a causal relationship, the Ministry respectively adjusts the clinical care considerations for vaccination.”
Repeated requests for access to the results of the reports and data have so far gone unanswered.
Documents with charts detailing moderate to severe side effects to the COVID vaccine are embedded as links into the Israeli Healthy Ministry’s website, and most figures usually rate a small number of cases per one million doses. Paraira dismisses them as “scribble.” The government’s document (in English) on the safety profile of the booster attributes 77 adverse effects to the third shot; Paraira has received over 300 complaints, some of which are reported directly by physicians who fear the Health Ministry would disregard them or that tying them to the vaccine would cost them professionally.
She suspects that in Israel, vaccine hesitancy toward the booster can be attributed to first- and second-hand accounts of bad vaccine reactions. According to the Health Ministry’s latest figures, just over 4 million received the third booster, about 1.7 million fewer than those who were double-vaccinated. She also believes her assembled testimonies represent a fraction of existing injuries due to lack of reporting on the part of both physicians and sick patients.
“They’re afraid because they depend on doctors, and they need to pass a serious psychological barrier, from being an admirer of vaccines to being on the ‘other side,’ the side they condemned,” Paraira said. “So they sit quietly and suffer.” For now, she says, she has tasked herself to serve as their mouthpiece.
Kaye puts his trust in the medical establishment and believes they are operating in good faith. The nature of the pandemic makes it difficult to acquire reliable data in real-time. All vaccines have side effects and adverse effects, the latter usually affecting a miniscule fraction. Claims of SAEs must be measured against the risk benefit given the massive, multi-billion volumes of doses that have been administered globally.
“Having said that, if you’re the person who falls into that category that’s considered ‘risk,’ obviously for you that’s terrible, but you’re looking at the level of the population, always.”
The growing community of people likely suffering from adverse effects want to be regarded as more than a rare “statistic,” if they even become recognized as such.
“If I had Corona, they would’ve listened to me,” Niva said. “They would’ve cared for me. I would’ve gotten admiration. When I say it’s from the vaccine, the burden is on me to prove the connection. I’m in misery as it is.”
Niva has recently determined to become healthy again. Alienated from both the pro-vax and anti-vax milieu, she has made a new community among people on social media forums, numbering in the thousands internationally, who share her experience. Odelia’s partner has also joined a Whatsapp group for people who suspect neurological injury from the vaccine, and one Israeli doctor has attributed his symptoms to his booster, possibly paving the way for better access to treatment.
“The way they brush it off is very disappointing,” Niva said. “They have to take responsibility. I understand vaccines are good for the society as a whole but if a person takes a hit then don’t abandon that person. There are Corona clinics where people who had long-COVID can get treatment. I wish they had similar clinics for people who had ‘long-COVID-vaccines.’”