The other day, my wife and I went on our insurance website to fill out a COVID-19 vaccine eligibility survey. My wife went first. She’s at high risk after being in the hospital in late October for sepsis. She also works as a teaching assistant in our children’s school, and before COVID-19, she also taught gardening classes. She filled out the survey, and got some information about how she’d be contacted soon to make an appointment.
Then I went to the computer. I want to say I made it three questions in before I was more or less kicked out with a blanket statement along the lines of “you are not even, in a million years, eligible for the vaccine at this point.” Well… okay, maybe it was more diplomatic than that, but the reality is, I’m in my late 30s, with no underlying conditions, and I have a job where I can comfortably work from home. Long story short, it’s going to be quite a while before I get the shot, but my wife… well… she was ready to go now, and I couldn’t help but feel that pinch of envy. And I’m not the only one; apparently a lot of couples are feeling this exact same pinch.
The most common examples seem to be coming from senior couples with a several year age gap. In fact, the Wall Street Journal did an entire article where they interviewed multiple couples in their 60s and 70s, where the older of the two was able to get vaccinated, while the younger was left to wait. One of the sharper examples was that of Barbra Waters who is 64 (and a half, according to her). She just barely missed the cutoff in her state, but her 78-year-old husband was able to get vaccinated. While asking her doctor if there was any way she could get the vaccine now, he said… “you’re in the SOL group.” Just to be clear, SOL stands for “shit outta luck.” And that frank statement from Barbra’s doctor does sum up the overall sentiment for a lot of people right now who want to get the vaccine, but have to wait because they don’t fit into an eligible group.
At least, that’s how I feel right now. In fact, I was on a walk the other day, and ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in several months. She lives a few blocks away, and she works at the hospital. She was griping to me about how the second shot of the vaccine really kicked her butt, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes with envy and internally give a “boo-hoo.”
According to many experts, these envious feelings are very normal. All of it is a psychological game of doing everything we can to avoid the virus until enough shots become available. Eric Zillmer, a neuropsychology professor at Drexel University and Susan Whitbourne, a professor emeritus of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, came at the problem of vaccine envy head on in a recent Washington Post article.
They gave a couple really powerful tips to help people struggling as they watch friends and family members get vaccinated, while they sit at home in the SOL group. Whitbourne says “Don’t pretend you don’t feel this, and don’t get mad at yourself for feeling this way. People say, ‘I’m a terrible person. I resent the fact that Grandma got vaccinated.’ You’re not a terrible person.” More or less, Whitbourne says it’s good to realize that what you are feeling is normal, and to accept that one of the best ways to fight envy is to be emotionally honest with yourself.
Zillmer goes on to suggest that we all take the time to look at the bigger picture. “If everybody gets vaccinated, it actually helps us, right? We forget about that; we’re just thinking about ourselves. But this entire process of vaccination only works if everybody gets vaccinated.” Ultimately, he’s referring to herd immunity, which is the overall goal of the vaccine. And we cannot reach herd immunity unless people get vaccinated, so if someone is eligible, getting the shot is ultimately helping everyone.
The other day I was meeting with my therapist online, and I was discussing how one of the hardest parts of living through a pandemic is that I feel like we have nothing to look forward to. He paused at what I said, thought for a moment, and then gave me this very casual reality check. He said that yes, things seem dark, but then he told me that by this time next year, we really should be back to normal life. And I’ll be honest, I couldn’t help but smile at that thought, and then think back to what Dr Anthony S. Fauci said recently: “By the time we get to April, that will be what I would call, for better wording, ‘open season,’ namely, virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated.”
I know that COVID time seems to move like dog years, but as I write this sentence it’s nearing the end of February, and frankly April isn’t that far away. So there is hope that all this vaccine envy will be coming to a swift end very soon. But in the meantime, let’s try to be optimistic, because there is a light at the end of this very dark tunnel — even if others get to reach it first.