03 January 2021

Getting the vaccine – should I wait or should I go now?

The Canton of Geneva says I’m nearly at the front of the line to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Should I?

By Bill Harby

I’m not a front-line medical worker, so how did I get so close to the front of the line to get the vaccine? Nor am I a grocery store worker, a restaurant server, or anyone who needs to come into close contact with the public except when I take the bus or tram. I’m just someone who, due to my age, got placed just behind those first in line.


Beginning Jan. 4th, those age 75 and older in Canton Geneva are beginning to receive their first shots.


I’m 68, so I’m in the second age group – 65 to 74 – who can get ours starting sometime in February depending on availability. This is also when frontline medical workers will be eligible.


I want to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but I’m having second thoughts. Not because needles give me the heebie-jeebies. They don’t. When I get a shot I just look away and stare at a blank space on the wall that is suddenly intensely fascinating. 


Nor am I having second thoughts because I fear serious side effects. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the first one available in Switzerland, has completed the usual Phase-3 trials all new medications go through under ordinary circumstances. The vaccine has already been given to more than 43,000 volunteers, who have exhibited almost no side effects, except for a few people who were prone to allergic reactions. I’m not allergic to anything I know of other than failed American despots and girls doing that smooch face on social media. 


I also don’t have any underlying medical issues that make me more vulnerable to Covid-19. I just lucked into the good timing of recently watching middle age vanish in my rearview mirror. 


I’m having second thoughts about getting the vaccine tout de suiteprecisely because I’m not among those higher risk groups who work in essential services. I’m more or less retired, and work almost entirely from home. My wife and I are embarrassingly content living our cloistered, online-enabled lives, only masking and sanitizing to run errands, or get groceries or takeout.


So, to paraphrase that respected public health group, The Clash, should I wait or should I go now?


My wife, who recently retired from the Geneva lab of a multi-national pharmaceutical testing company, plans to wait awhile to see if the first wave of public inoculations reveals any icky side effects.


Another family member, who’s a genetics researcher at Geneva University, and lives and breathes data, notes that the vaccines “use a novel technology,” so he gets it that some people might be skittish. Nevertheless, under these crisis circumstances, would he get the vaccine if it were offered to him today? He’s young, fit and healthy. “Yeah, I would,” he says. 


We’re already seeing prominent politicians, public health officials and celebrities being photographed and filmed getting inoculated, hoping, they say, to encourage those who are afraid of needles or vaccines in general to roll up their sleeves. Of course, there’s been the inevitable backlash: Why do these bigwigs get to have the vaccine first?


Were I to get poked on TV, it’s doubtful anyone would change their mind about getting theirs. So, thank goodness, that’s not on my conscience.


What ison my conscience is this: As long as the first deliveries of vaccines must be rationed, how dare I cut in line before every frontline medical worker who wants one has gotten theirs, and before any young mother stocking grocery store shelves, and before my friend serving kebab every day in the café down the street?


On the other hand, how dare I notprotect myself with the vaccine as soon as possible, knowing that my wife and other loved ones would be rather discombobulated if I were to become seriously C-19 sick?


And what if most of us decide to wait and see if the first wave of vaccinated populations suddenly sprout purple horns? How long would we wait? A month? A year? If so, how long would that delay the mass immunity the world needs to smother the pandemic?

I'll still be weighing all these questions one day soon when I sit down in a bright, sterile room, stare at a fascinating blank space on the wall, and roll up my sleeve.

16 May 2018

Scratching the Cobblestone Surface in Mechelen

We’re just back from a quick scouting expedition to the deceptively handsome historic town of Mechelen, Belgium, an hour’s flight north of our Geneva home. 

Outwardly civilized and friendly, its streets lined with ornate buildings from the 16th, 17thand 18thcenturies, Mechelen’s center can lull you into reveries of men and women in powdered wigs and buckled shoes sharing witty pleasantries in the trilled tones that decorate the Flemish Dutch language.

But beware. Modern-day danger lurks. A moment’s inattention while crossing the cobblestones can leave you tattooed with bicycle tire treads up your backside. Most of Flanders is chessboard flat, which is just fine for Mechelen’s countless cyclists criss-crossing in every direction. You’ll see little kids you wouldn’t think could walk yet riding behind Mum and Dad, businessmen in tailored suits peddling to meetings, school girls in fluttering dresses, and grandmas who you wouldn’t think could still walk.

A prettily jingling bike bell might be the last sound you ever hear.

But bike traffic is only one of the city’s dangers. 

If you eat enough of the famous Belgian fries dipped in gobs of mayonnaise (which is the only thing that makes them “Belgian”), your cardiologist may well write his resignation letter on your latest ekg.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons to risk a visit to Mechelen.

One example: asparagus. The city, about 20 km. north of Brussels and south of Antwerp, is in the heart of Flanders, where local asparagus, especially white asparagus, is popular. 

It was the height of the season when we were there, so the chalkboard daily-specials menus in front of Mechelen restaurants were scribbled with a list of asparagus options. At my terrace table on Grote Markt (Big Market) square, I chose one with smoked salmon. 

My waiter explained that they prepare the asparagus by first briefly boiling it, then dunking it immediately in cold water to preserve texture (between crunchy and mushy), then simmering the spears in LOTS of butter. Perfect texture, full of flavor. I seasoned mine only with a Mechelen pilsner.

Another assault on your health in Mechelen are the church bells. Every few blocks, an old church suddenly looms. Some of them ring their bells (or electronic organs with the “bells” stop open full throttle) every hour or more day and night. Our hotel was near the imposing Gothic tower of Saint Rumbold’s Cathedral, which looks less like a stairway to heaven than an upscale condo for bats, one of which almost flew in our window one night.

The cathedral carillon music set list included “Ode to Joy” and “Little Drummer Boy” (in mid-May). Another nearby church graced us with the practice sessions of its carillon keyboardist playing scales and favorite phrases from hymnbook hits. A hot mike mistake or hubris?

Such are the weighty matters you can contemplate while strolling the lanes of old Mechelen. But don’t get too lost in your thoughts 

19 March 2018

Is this really Switzerland's oldest town?

The town of Chur in Canton Graubünden, says it's the oldest in Switzerland. But that all depends on your definition of "town," as archaeologists explained for my story on swissinfo.

And how does Chur's age compare to the city that's widely accepted as one of the world's oldest?

Not in question is the charm of Chur's medieval Old Town.

15 November 2017

10 October 2017

04 September 2017

Poetry Found

We were wheeling along a neighborhood boardwalk this Monday afternoon and came upon a little table piled with poetry, and two gentlemen offering to read to us and everyone.

Claude Thébert reads poems from "Aller Simple" by Erri De Luca.

Lionel Brady reads Verlaine.
Claude reads Greek poet, Kiki Dimoula.

For more on Lionel and Claude: www.theatredusentier.ch

27 August 2017

Samedi Swim in the Rhone

Our long, hot summer (knock on wood) draws les Genevois in the know to a certain stretch of the Rhone to swim and watch its beauty and hijinks.

Yesterday, a regatta of whacky boats and sailors bedecked the river.

Wildlife abounded.

And bounded.

The weather report for at least the next week: mostly hot and sunny, and totally cool.