NEW YORK (AP) – Before Aditi Juneja posted a selfie with her COVID-19 vaccination card on Twitter, she considered adding an explanation as to why she was eligible for a shot.
“The first draft of the tweet had an explanation,” says Juneja, a 30-year-old attorney in New York City.
After some thought, she decided to leave out the fact that her body mass index is considered obese, which puts her at higher risk of serious illness if infected. A friend who posted the same reason on social media was greeted with hateful comments and Juneja wanted to avoid it.
The introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in the US gives hope that the pandemic that has changed lives around the world will finally come to an end. However, as prevalence expands in the U.S., different licensing rules and unequal access to the coveted doses also lead to guilt, envy, and judgment among those who received their doses – especially the seemingly young and healthy – and the millions who did Still excited to get your turn.
Add to this the scatter shot feeling of the rollout and the feeling that some could play the system. Faced with a patchwork of confusing planning systems, many who are not as tech-savvy or socially connected have had to wait, even as new groups of people come into question.
The envy and moral judgments about whether others deserve priority are understandable and could reflect fears about being able to get vaccines for ourselves or our loved ones, says Nancy Berlinger, a bioethicist at the Hastings Center.
“There’s a fear of missing out or the fear of missing out on your parents’ behalf,” she says.
Stereotypes about what a disease looks like also cast doubt on people’s eligibility, even when the reason a person got a shot isn’t always obvious. In other cases, Berlinger said, judgments may reflect ingrained prejudices about smoking and obesity, compared to conditions that society considers more “virtuous,” such as cancer.
Although a mass vaccination campaign must be fraught with imperfections, Berlinger noted that the goal is to use medical evidence to prioritize people who are most at risk if infected.
Even so, the uneven rollout and different rules across the country have left some questionable decisions by local officials.
In New Jersey, 58-year-old software developer Mike Lyncheski was surprised to learn in January that smokers of all ages were allowed because at the time he knew older people who were still waiting to be taken.
“There didn’t seem to be any medical justification for this,” says Lyncheski, who is not yet eligible for the vaccines. He also noted that there is no way to confirm that people are smokers and left the door open to cheat.
The suspicion is fueled by reports from line jumpers or those broadening the definitions of suitability. In New York, a soul cycle instructor was vaccinated after teachers were admitted in January, the Daily Beast reported, and later apologized for her “terrible error of judgment.” In Florida, two women wore hats and glasses to disguise themselves as elderly people in hopes of getting gunfire. Hospital board members, trustees and donors have also received early gunshots and made complaints about unfair access.
So some feel compelled to explain why they were able to get the vaccine. In an Instagram post, Jeff Klein held up his vaccination card and discovered that he had been shot while volunteering at a mass vaccination center.
“I definitely mentioned it on purpose because I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea,” says Klein, a 44-year-old musician in Austin, Texas.
While waiting for a shot in Jacksonville, Florida, 33-year-old Amanda Billy said it could be frustrating to see people her age reporting vaccinations in other states. She understood that government rollouts are different but was concerned because she suffers from a disease that makes COVID-19 “very real and scary”.
“I’m just happy for you that you got it. But I want it too, ”she said in an interview before getting her first shot.
Others find that they open themselves to criticism when they share messages that they got a chance. Public figures in particular could turn from strangers to thought-provoking goals.
In New York City, local television news co-host Jamie Stelter posted a photo of herself after taking the first shot earlier this month. Many of the responses were positive, but others found she didn’t look old enough or needed to “have connections”.
Afterward, Stelter’s co-host Pat Kiernan weighed in and tweeted that the “You don’t look so sick to me” comment she received was “evidence of the hell COVID has put us in”.
For Juneja, the decision to get a chance after approval was not an easy one, knowing that others had appointments due to technology, language, or other obstacles. But she realized that not getting vaccinated would not help.
“It’s not like other things where I could give my place to someone else who I think is more in need,” she says. “We are all in this situation, so to speak, in which we can only really decide for ourselves.”
Candice Choi, a reporter on The Associated Press Health & Science team, covered the rollout of pandemics and vaccines in the United States.
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