Scroll through my friend Yarden Danan’s Instagram posts from recent weeks and you’ll see pics from concerts, malls and restaurants—in-person experiences made newly safe by Israel’s rapid rollout of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
So Yarden sprang to mind when a reporter from ICSC asked me if I knew of any good sources for a story about Israel’s retail resurgence (read that here: “The Crowds are Back at Israel’s Stores and Restaurants”).
I met Yarden when she was playing basketball for Eckerd College, a liberal arts school here in St. Petersburg, and she immediately felt part of the family, staying with us for holidays and weekends and we stayed with her family in Israel in 2019. Yarden is a 24-year-old basketball phenom who played for seven seasons on Israel’s national team. She’s now a shooting guard in the pro leagues for Maccabi Bnot Ashdod. She’ll be coming to stay with us again for another “family visit” in a couple of weeks and we can’t wait to see her.
A worthwhile investment
As noted in the ICSC piece, Israel has been able to crush the curve via its upfront investment in early vaccination. By the latest count, more than 5 million of Israel’s 9 million people have received both doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. More than 85 percent of Israelis 16 or older have been vaccinated or are likely to have built up antibodies through a previous infection—herd immunity territory.
Predictably, the positive effects on retail, malls and restaurants have been dramatic. “Lines in the stores are insane,” Yarden told ICSC. “People want to go and spend money. They can shop safely now, so they’re going out.”
For me, this highlights just how important it is for the United States to keep pushing forward with its own vaccination campaign.
Already, the economic situation in the states is improving: U.S. GDP accelerated in the first quarter and is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. About 20 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. But we have a long way to go and we shouldn’t let up too soon. The heartbreaking situation in India is a cautionary tale.
Meanwhile, it’s important for government officials, healthcare leaders and decision-makers in important sectors of our economy (retail real estate included) to start thinking about how we can be better prepared in the future. (Retailers and landlords can also take action now to encourage vaccination, as discussed in our last Q&A with Dr. David A. Wein.)
Preparing for the future
Israel’s vaccination drive has been remarkably efficient, centralized and user-friendly. When you think about the state of the U.S. healthcare system today, it’s difficult to imagine us following a similar course. And yet we can and should do our best to ramp up our pandemic response and preparedness.
Just think of the costs to retail real estate of the lockdowns and the suppression of in-person economic activity during the course of this pandemic. We could have saved billions of dollars, not to mention thousands of lives, with a more robust response. That’s the calculation that Israel made when they paid Pfizer significantly more than both the US and the EU to ensure they received doses, and could reopen, faster than others. What good is it to negotiate the lowest price, as the EU did, only ensuring a longer, slower road to recovery?
Early on in the pandemic, I looked at how parts of Asia had emerged 90 days after lockdown and assumed that the United States would follow the same timeline. That was wrong. I didn’t yet understand just how much better other countries were going to be at managing the disease and, equally important, ensuring efficient delivery of vaccines to the majority of their population.
Therein lies the lesson for Americans: We need to identify and correct the systemic limitations that have made us more vulnerable. Intense partisanship, a sense of deep division, is one of those weaknesses. We need to see that we’re all in this together.