While vaccines against COVID–19 represent one of the peaks of human ingenuity and achievement, they also present an issue of vaccination etiquette: How are we supposed to act in the global scramble for a shot?
With many people jumping the queue and getting vaccinated despite technically not being eligible, are we supposed to condemn them or admire their boldness and ask for tips? How can we stop ourselves from feeling resentful instead of happy when a friend or relative is ahead of us in the queue? Is yearning for vaccines a legitimate response to the pandemic, or just a symptom of FOMO?
These and many other questions have arisen throughout the past few weeks as more and more people, and specifically Penn students, are getting vaccinated. Scrolling through social media, it seems like every other post is a selfie of someone with a huge smile and bandage on their arm, holding a little slip of paper confirming their vaccinated status. This sudden onslaught of vaccination can create what is known as ‘vaccine envy’ for those still waiting.
On the surface, vaccine envy makes complete sense. In the year since the pandemic began, millions of people have lost loved ones, jobs, health insurance, and more. Living through that kind of collective trauma, a mass emotional response was inevitable. Rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness have all risen tremendously over the pandemic, so it’s natural that these feelings would manifest themselves as envy.
Of course, some are better at dealing with this kind of jealousy than others. The worst most of us have done is complained a bit, but that doesn’t come anywhere close to claiming that you “deserve some preferential treatment” for vaccination because you pay higher taxes, like Charles Barkley did, or tweeting that obese people should not receive vaccine priority like the now–suspended Fox 5 News anchor Blake McCoy. Clearly, vaccine envy is real.
I received the vaccine last week, through what is called a “dumpster dose,” meaning that after calling multiple pharmacies and waiting for hours, I was lucky enough to receive a leftover vaccine that would otherwise have been thrown away. However, apart from my immediate family and close friends, I was hesitant to broadcast this to everyone I knew, and opted out of posting my vaccination slip on my story like I had seen so many others do. Part of the anxiety stemmed from the small, seemingly offhanded comments and posts that I had seen all over social media about who deserves the vaccine versus who doesn’t.
Judgement has been one of the constants of the pandemic, so it’s no surprise that jab judgement came alongside the vaccination effort. But shaming people more often than not has the opposite effect than the one intended. Griping about people who skip the line or advertise doing so on social media is so common, in part because it’s easier than figuring out how to fix a broken system that let thousands of people die. However, it also is a way of separating ourselves from those around us when, more than ever, we need to band together.
The pandemic has also highlighted how selfish certain individuals can be, which would turn anyone into a pandemic scold. It’s hard not to feel frustrated when you hear news of the wealthy Hollywood elite taking vaccines intended for the Black and Latinx residents of Los Angeles, who have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. But it is possible to feel justified anger in instances such as these without being consumed by outrage and letting it embolden us to judge everyone in our periphery who has received the vaccine.
If there’s anything that the last year should have taught the world, it’s empathy. As more and more people around us become vaccine–eligible or, like myself, manage to get a dumpster dose in the coming months, I genuinely hope that we can all pause our knee–jerk reactions and judgements. We all need to make an effort to separate our internalized notions about health, morality, and worth from the COVID–19 response. After all, we all have the same goals: to stay safe and hopefully get everything back to normal.