We’re the type to brag about it. Someone close to me has an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Almost everyone I know is in the 1c tier, for critical infrastructure or essential workers. That includes my husband and myself.
The group chat started to light up. There are differences of opinion between us as to whether our person is entitled to get the shot this early. This is going to happen tens of thousands of times over, so I figured it’s worth talking about.
To me, it seems obvious that we need to get as many shots into arms as fast as possible. Every single last thing about this pandemic has been botched, bungled, and befuddled from the very start. We need to speed things up.
The reason my person has an appointment so early is along the same lines as why it’s easier to get appointments at some DMV locations rather than others. When I went to get my REAL ID it took me two separate trips over two days and a cumulative 5.5 hours. Coworkers are reporting that they’re able to get an appointment within days and be in and out in ten minutes. That’s because they share information about which is the best location and how to work the system.
Engineers are particularly great about learning system requirements. Low side compliance for the win.
So my person has been working in what I would refer to as “the hinterlands.” As far as I’m concerned, if someone is able to book a legitimate slot using legitimate credentials, then please go in there, roll up your sleeve, get the shot, and then tell everyone you know. There are a lot of fence-sitters out there who can be convinced after they hear enough uneventful stories and the case load continues to drop.
Getting a vaccine is less painful or time-consuming than going to the dentist, and everyone accepts that we need to do that twice a year. I would say, based on personal experience, that the consequences of getting the coronavirus are worse than the consequences of not going to the dentist!
Obviously not everyone would agree that my person should be getting the shot. We’re still working on the seniors. I understand this, and of course I believe the most vulnerable people should be protected.
However, we’ve done an staggeringly shoddy job of protecting our seniors so far.
This is an instructive example of real-world ethics.
What we’re seeing is the crossroads between divergent ethical frameworks, where various arguments could be made depending on our values.
In this case, one position is the categorical imperative. We must wait our turn so that those who are more vulnerable are protected first. Subverting this system is cheating and it’s selfish.
(This is generally where I stand, on the end that if something is wrong, it is always wrong, and that we should make a commitment to live these values even at great personal sacrifice).
Another position is the utilitarian one, that says we need to do what is best for the greatest number. There can be a dark side to this, which can be demonstrated in the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery.” Just because the majority agree on something does not mean it is okay!
Right now, during the pandemic, we are racing against time. There is this little phenomenon known as “vaccine escape,” in which the virus mutates into a strain that is resistant to the vaccine. This is why we currently have to get a flu shot every year, because influenza is a tricky bugger that shape-shifts too quickly for a universal vaccine.
This may be changing, though. Due to isolation and masking, flu cases dropped by a whopping 95% this season. It would be extremely weird and cool if influenza (figuratively) died of COVID.
The other thing that would be bonkers would be if the COVID-19 vaccine also wound up eliminating the coronavirus form of the common cold. Crazy, right? Then we would still be stuck with the rhinovirus family, but it would be a good start.
It seems obvious to me that vaccines are one of the greatest innovations of all human history, that they have saved hundreds of millions of lives, and that getting vaccinated is not just an ethical issue but a moral one. At this point, I wouldn’t care if the vaccine was guaranteed to make my leg fall off, because if mass vaccination can stop the pandemic, it will be worth it.
But of course that won’t happen. I’ve been vaccinated for a dozen different things and the only thing that ever happened was that my arm hurt for a couple days.
This is a factor in the decision of whether to “jump the line” and take the opportunity to get your shot early.
Part of why there are spots available is due to mass vaccine hesitancy. People are freaking out, even people who obediently vaccinated their own children, even people who used to regularly get the flu shot. The same generation that saw the extinction of smallpox is now turning its back on vaccination, for what ultimate reasons I cannot say, because I don’t understand them.
It works and you know it from personal experience. So what’s the problem?
Others may disagree, but this is my position. I believe that it is a tragic and appalling waste to have to throw out a single spoiled dose. Every last dose needs to go toward protecting a person.
Waiting because you feel guilty and someone “worse off than you” should get their shot first is precisely like waiting to jump out of the emergency exit on a plane. There are only 90 seconds to evacuate a plane. If a single person stands there dithering and dilly-dallying, it’s possible that every person on the plane could die in a massive fireball.
Don’t wait, GO!
People like my example may be getting their opportunity a little early because they have access to a location with less population pressure. Maybe the people in that community have been frightened into inaction by derpy friends and irresponsible fake journalists? Or maybe they’re out there getting it done and they just have more doses to go around.
Probably what will happen is that the virus is eliminated more easily in certain less-dense communities, and six months from now, entire swaths of countryside are COVID-free. The hot zones will remain in places like my neighborhood, where the neighbors have one immunity, which is to science. That will be my problem to deal with, but I certainly wish godspeed to those locales that can be clean and clear more quickly.
When I get my chance, I’m going to book my slot as fast as I can. If I find out I can get it sooner in the parking lot at work, or at Kaiser, or through the same drive-thru where we got our tests last year, then by Jove, I’m going.
We all need to work together to beat the spread of coronavirus and replace it with concepts of civic virtue, collective effort, community pride, and rational thought.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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