I got my first dose of Moderna yesterday. As for many getting the vaccine, it was—and still is—an emotional experience. Here are 5 feelings that rose to the surface for me upon getting the vaccine:
💉 Relief: I’ve been a hyper-cautious person for the past 13 months. I miss my friends and should be spending Passover with family. Once I am fully vaccinated (2 weeks after my second dose), I will feel more comfortable seeing people in small settings, and will not be quite as anxious about being in people-filled places like grocery stores. I still will be quite cautious and continuing masking, social distancing, hand-washing, and not doing unnecessary activities, but this peace of mind is powerful.
💉Fear: I don’t know how my body will react. There are others with Chronic Lyme Disease who got the vaccine and experienced terrible flares. Even my doctor—a Lyme and other chronic conditions specialist—initially recommended against getting it because of this possibility. After so much dedicated work on managing my health in the past year, the last thing I need is to be set back. While I’m more worried about the second shot than this first, the unknown is scary. (Note: about 24 hours after this first shot, I’m doing ok! My very sore arm, achy body, periodic chills, and runny nose are all manageable.)
💉Anxiety: I arrived to my appointment and the paperwork reflected that chronic health conditions were NOT eligible. But they were, at least through the online screening and extensive other reading. It turned out ok (the paperwork hadn’t been updated…oof) but it activated my medical trauma and related imposter syndrome around this part of my identity. So many medical professionals still do not believe that Lyme disease is real, and that symptoms can be “solved” by drinking more water or getting more sleep or deep breathing. Going down the rabbit hole of not feeling heard or seen is really hard for me.
💉Frustration: It took me looking at the right time in the right place for an appointment and being comfortable asserting my eligibility when my specific chronic conditions were not listed. So so so many persons with disabilities and chronic illnesses cannot access the vaccine because of accessibility and safety issues, and also lack of prioritization. Compounded with this issue are all of the Black and brown communities who do not have equitable access to the vaccine; just this morning I read an article about distribution issues in Chicago communities like Austin. Why are the identities that have been disproportionately affected getting vaccinated at lower rates? (So many reasons, and all outside of individual choice are not ok.)
💉Gratitude: I’m grateful for science and an administration that believes in it. I’m grateful for the healthcare workers who were so kind and respectful in administering the jab. I’m grateful for the humans who work at grocery stores, delivering packages, providing healthcare, planning public health strategies, designing safety net programs, advocating for rights of persons with marginalized identities, teaching kids, reaching out to elderly neighbors, contributing to mutual aid, and contributing in any way big or small to making this world a little more caring, safe, and healthy. I’m grateful for a cadre of supportive friends.
I thought I would also feel a release of stress from making the decision to get it, but I don’t. The question of “did I do the right thing at the right time for my body?” is still looming large. The time spent weighing options, imagining scenarios, questioning intentions, and self-judging has been significant. It has taken over my brain space in ways that are undoubtedly unhealthy but also unavoidable as the human I am in the context we’re in. None of these feelings and analyses are unique to this moment, even though on the surface they are. They’re the product of broader reflections on privilege, power, information democracy, systemic racism, shortcomings of medical establishments, capitalism, and self-identity that constantly (and loudly, sometimes too loudly) bounce around inside my head.
Relatedly, I also thought I’d feel anger. (“Why anger?! That seems odd,” you might comment.) Social media has made abundantly clear how many people are getting vaccinated so they can live it up with justification. The influx of images of people partying, traveling, and going out to eat in crowded restaurants is jarring, particularly for me as someone with a risk tolerance that turned me into a homebody by default. I deeply respect public health and taking care of community by not putting others at risk. I would normally be furious with seeming reckless individual choices. But one of my biggest learnings this year as a leader and a human has been showing grace, both to myself and to others. There have been so many layers of this pandemic for so many people; it makes it hard to judge with the same definitiveness that I used to. I blame government leaders for not intervening sooner with unified authority and strategy, and I mostly feel grace for individuals—even the ones behaving recklessly. That individual behavior is rooted in much bigger systemic issues, and while I wish more community-minded choices were being made, I understand them too.
For many, the vaccine means a return to normal. But we can’t go back to the old normal. As I reflected on mass killings the other day and could similarly reflect on any number of issues, the old status quo did not work. As communities, countries, and the world, we need to do better. Working in the philanthropy sector, I’ve been fascinated to follow the philanthropic response to the pandemic and the intwined racial justice reckoning. I wonder daily: once we reach a higher percentage of people vaccinated, will the funding, mutual aid, accessibility measures, power shifts, safety nets, denouncements of hate, and advocacy stick around? I fear a rollback, when what we need is sustained efforts. We need to build back better. The vaccine is not a solution, though it is a start.