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The COVID Vaccine: A New Social Divide Between the Haves and the Have Nots

Finding a vaccine slot can feel like winning the lottery or joining an exclusive club. Here's our report on frustration and freedom after a year of COVID.

“No, Jeannie doesn’t have it yet,” I heard my friend say into the telephone. When I looked up, she had turned her back and lowered her voice so she could continue the conversation with her husband about an upcoming outdoor gathering more privately. I imagined that he was telling her I couldn’t come, that because I had not received my COVID vaccine (and they had) I was persona non grata. I felt a combination of anger, frustration, and rejection, like I was being excluded from a lunch table in the junior high cafeteria. I was obviously not in the cool group.

I never learned for sure if he was indeed banning me from the gathering because later that day, in a stroke of luck, I got a text from a neighbor to say that our community center had leftover Pfizer doses that needed to be used. I rushed over in my biking gear (since I’d been on a ride) and got my jab and in a snap, I felt like I’d been elevated in the new social order. I guess it didn’t matter that I’d only had the first dose and that it takes weeks to build up real immunity, because two days later, I went to my friend’s small, outdoor Happy Hour, where we still socially distanced. Everyone else there had gotten at least one dose.

This experience with being “out” then “in” made me think how strange this period of time is: We’ve all been penned up for a year of pandemic and some of us are receiving a “Get Out of Jail” card and others aren’t. It can create a sense of unease and that old bugaboo, FOMO (fear of missing out).

Read More: Most Vaccine Recipients are White Women Over 50. Uh, How Did This Happen?

A Patchwork Approach

Ironically, on the day I got my first shot, I learned that a friend’s 77-year-old father was in the hospital with COVID. I felt a bit of guilt. Not that I took a shot from him—he lives in a different area—but that as I was celebrating, he was suffering. He hadn’t been able to get the vaccine because he couldn’t navigate the online sign-up system and his younger wife doesn’t speak good English, further hindering their attempts to get the vaccine.

The limited vaccine supply provokes even more anxiety because people are trying to get their hands on a very rare commodity.

Just as mask and lockdown guidelines have differed tremendously from state to state and city to city through the pandemic, so has access to vaccines. When I asked our NextTribe Facebook group for experiences with the vaccine, I heard from a woman who had put herself on 14 different pharmacy lists and others who had to hang on the phone endlessly or keep refreshing their web browser to finally get a slot.

Before my out-of-the-blue call to get my jab, I had joined a vaccine-finder group on Slack and got on lists at a couple of pharmacies to get notified if they had leftovers. The pharmacist at the CVS told me I’d have better luck coming in between 7 and 8 p.m. at night to check on doses that people didn’t show up for. I did that a few times, with no luck, and decided I had better things to do than hanging out between the racks of Preparation H and Depends.

Some women I asked received their shots with no hassle. “Getting the vaccine in New York City was embarrassingly easy for us,” says Sally Koslow, who had a sleep over for her grandkids three weeks after the vaccine. But they are the exception.

The New York Times published a story about “vaccine hunters,” who are willing to drive anywhere to get inoculated. “The federal government has created this ‘Hunger Games’ scenario where people are out there doing everything they can to get to the front of as many lines as they possibly can,” Dr. Francisco García, the chief medical officer for Pima County in Tucson, Arizona, told the Times. “The limited vaccine supply provokes even more anxiety because people are trying to get their hands on a very rare commodity.”

“Getting the vaccine was like winning concert tickets,” reports Audrey Nizen of Florida, who got her parents vaccinated. “You have to call every Monday and Friday at 7 a.m. and hold on the phone until it disconnects. You could have been holding for two hours. You also fill out multiple county forms online for older parents who are not computer savvy.” Now that Florida has lowered the age for eligibility, Nizen has to jump through the hoops again, this time for herself.

Vaccine Ethics

The author, so giddy about getting her vaccine that she forgot to remove her biking gear.

Though a lot of experts are just happy that bodies—any bodies—are getting their vaccines, some people feel resentful when it looks like others are gaming the system. One NextTriber was miffed when a friend arranged to get her 22-year-old daughter vaccinated, but did nothing to help her or others who are more at risk.

I know people who have made up a medical condition to jump the line.

“I know this is an unpopular opinion but I know people who have made up a condition to jump the line or their BMI is right on the cusp and they have gotten the vaccine when they probably could have waited,” says Lauri Zachry Truong of Texas. “I’m ok waiting (my entire family and a lot of close friends have already received the vaccine), but I feel horrible for people who have legitimate conditions and those over 65 who are still waiting.”

Some heroic people have actually been busy helping others in need get their vaccines. One NextTriber has a neighbor, “a bad-ass ex-marine,” who has been devoting herself to assisting others for the past five weeks.

Amy Klein of New York estimates she’s helped 50 people get their shots. “Number one, I want the most people vaccinated as possible to end this COVID, and number two, as an extrovert it gives me great pleasure to talk to other people–friends and strangers alike,” Klein told us. Good on you!!

A New Freedom

Though I still have to get my second dose, I felt completely giddy after getting my first. I was on my way. On the top of the after-vaccination to-do list for NextTribe women is being with family again—whether grandchildren or elderly parents. “I didn’t realize how much pent-up anxiety I had. After the vaccine, I felt I could finally breathe,” said Lucie Frost, who lives in San Antonio. “I started sleeping again. And next week, I’m seeing my kid for the first time in over a year. That makes me want to cry, in the best way.”

I’m hosting a dinner party in April in person with masks off to celebrate. We’re serving a big spaghetti dinner in honor of Dr. Fauci!

Many of those fully vaccinated are busy planning travel and get-togethers. “As a single person I’m excited and have already scheduled a number of trips,” said Austin-based Nancy Goedeke. “My friends are beginning to hug each other and we’ve been hanging out outdoors as a group. In fact I’m planning an event for singles who are jabbed on April 2nd. It’s time to connect.”

Mary Reed, also from Austin, reports that members of her neighborhood supper club now feel safe enough after a year’s hiatus to eat together again on a restaurant’s outdoor patio. “This is a huge sign of progress for all of us,” she says, “maybe the biggest so far in terms of getting the good parts of our life back on track.”

Though most reported they will continue to take precautions out in public, there is a feeling that in private, with those who are vaccinated, they can finally let their guard down. “I’m hosting a dinner party in April in person with masks off to celebrate,” said Diane MacEachern of Maryland. “We’re serving a big spaghetti dinner in honor of Dr. Fauci!”

Because she is 10 years younger than her husband and some friends, Beth Woods of Colorado considers herself two months behind her social circle. “I’m frustrated, but at the same time confident that I will get mine soon,” she said.

Judy McVey Padgett of Tennessee has a message after getting her Johnson & Johnson shot: “I had COVID 90 days ago and was hospitalized so I’m very happy to get this vaccine. Everyone, please get it. COVID is horrible.”

Read More: Another Reason to Love Dolly Parton: She Helped Fund a COVID Vaccine


By Jeannie Ralston


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