Vaccine Envy

17 Jul Vaccine Envy

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 26.7.21


Here’s a thing we couldn’t have imagined in our pre-Covid lives – “vaccine envy”. Who saw this coming? Jealous of the neighbour’s new ride-on-mower, sure, I get that – I want one and I’ve barely got a lawn. Or a tinge green-eyed about someone’s holiday photos or first prize in the raffle drawer. In these moments I think we all allow ourselves a tiny moment of “Really happy for you, but what about me?”

And there are higher stakes involved in getting the vaccination call up. Not to downplay the joy you can get from a ride-on-mower, but that’s more of a labour-saver than life-saver. Once the travel bubble opened with Australia, a bunch of us felt our anxiety levels rise at the increased opportunity for that tricky virus to sneak across our border, especially if our health was vulnerable. It had been easy to look like we were waiting patiently when the virus wasn’t running loose in the community, but we’ve seen how fast your luck can change, and it started feeling urgent.

With a whole nation waiting for their turn, vaccine envy is running hot now at the school gate and in the office kitchen, and everywhere on social media. Some version of, “How come you’ve been vaccinated but I haven’t yet? How did you pull that off?!”

I had moments of “vaccine envy” myself. I’d hear about someone who lived with a border worker or nurse, or (rarely) had been in the right place at the right time and had been invited to use their arm to mop up a leftover shot. Happy for them, right? But just a small case of the what-about-mes.

I’ve been very open about being in the early weeks of Group 3 vaccinations. I figure it’s useful for anyone who might be vaccine-hesitant to hear positive experiences. It has not, however, brought joy to all.

“This absolutely 100 per cent ticks me right off,” someone wrote to my husband and me on Facebook, though she didn’t say “ticks” but a word that sounds a bit like it. I felt her frustration as she explained she was an essential worker during lockdown who’d kept the supermarket shelves packed so the rest of us could buy toilet paper and bread. “Yet we get placed at the bottom of the vaccination pile… BELOW comedians?”

I mean, honestly, she makes two fair points. One is that, while we celebrated essential workers during Level 4, we may have forgotten the risks they took for us then. One way to say thank you could be to protect them sooner rather than later. And second – quite right – no one should be jumping the queue because they tell jokes in pubs.

In reality the 1.7million people in Group 3 currently being vaccinated are in that category because of either age or underlying health conditions. It’s going to take a while to get through them all, and a 60 year old with a heart condition might get called up before an 83 year old, for example – which might look weird to you, depending on which one of those people you know personally.

I keep reminding myself that many diseases and disabilities are invisible and that, while you might know one thing about someone, you might not know all the things. And I keep hoping the lady from Facebook gets her shots soon.