I’m OK Waiting for a Vaccine — Are You?

I might be the last person in America to receive a coronavirus vaccine. And that is just fine.
December 21, 2020
Dr. Jeffrey Farber of the New Jewish Home in Manhattan receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It looks like I might be the last person in America to receive a coronavirus vaccine. And that is just fine.

Health care providers and nursing home residents appropriately come first, and the first doses are already reaching them. Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have now established a second priority level, including grocery store workers, other essential workers and those over 75 years old, who will hopefully start getting their shots in the next few weeks. Those between the ages of 65-74, younger adults with high risk medical conditions, transportation workers, food servers and other necessary employment sectors will be next. If things go smoothly, these groups will be vaccinated by the end of February.

The rest of us might not get those injections until sometime in the spring or summer, or even next fall depending on the efficacy of this unprecedented worldwide logistical challenge. Predictably and tragically, there are already disturbing reports of wealthy individuals offering large donations to health care providers in exchange for being given the chance to skip ahead in line.

But although sooner is obviously better than later, I am willing to wait. And unless you are a member of one of those first three priority groups specifically designated by the CDC, you should be just as willing.

I understand — there are plenty of things I miss from pre-COVID-19 life, too. Although Netflix and Amazon Prime have been keeping us entertained, it would be nice to see movies in a theater again. The weight bench that my wife and I assembled is perfectly adequate, but I wouldn’t mind getting back to the gym. Like most of you, I miss seeing friends and family in person, and I’ll be very excited to be together face-to-face rather than reminding them to unmute on Zoom.

There are plenty of things I miss from pre-COVID-19 life, too.

At worst, these are mere inconveniences. For those of us who are healthy and who are able to work from home, our annoyances are insignificant compared to the existential health and economic dangers that less fortunate Americans have faced every day for the last nine months. A worker who puts her life at risk for a job that allows me to buy groceries isn’t a better or worse person than me, but her ability to feed her children is more at risk without a vaccine than my economic well-being. So she gets priority. My vaccine can wait.

To be clear, I’m far from an economic progressive. I believe lower taxes help produce economic growth and that onerous regulations discourage business start-ups and job creation. But in what the economists are calling a K-shaped recovery, it’s clear that the investor class has not only survived under COVID-19 but thrived. The growing disparity between those who do white collar work from a home computer and those whose jobs and livelihoods depend on leaving home every day has been exacerbated during the pandemic. And the health risks faced by a family forced to crowd multiple generations into a small apartment are far more hazardous than those who own a house where every child has their own bedroom.

The policy debate over income inequality will continue for the foreseeable future, with liberals and conservatives offering dramatically different solutions on how best to close that gap. But regardless of which school of economic theory to which you subscribe, we should be able to agree that some of us need to get some approximation of our old lives back sooner than others.

Throughout most of American history, we have come together in times of crisis. But not this year. We messed up testing and contact tracing. We failed at masks and social distancing. We underreacted and overreacted. We blamed others and put ourselves at risk. Depending on our political or cultural orientation, we made excuses to protest or pray, forgiving those with whom we agreed and castigating those with whom we did not.

Now, we might actually see a light emerging at the end of a long, deep, dark tunnel. Can we get the vaccination right, at the very least? Maybe. But if this is going to work, it will require a level of unity, cooperation and selflessness which our country not displayed in many, many years.

Let’s see if we’re up to it.

Dan Schnur teaches political communications at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall.

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