Over the course of 2020, as our lives have become increasingly disrupted, new terms and phrases have come along to describe what we’re going through.
“Social distancing” would have meant being stand-offish at a party if you’d said it to me last year, and now I immediately think of dots on the floor telling me where to stand and arrows telling me which way to walk in the grocery store. I was familiar with things like isolation gowns and face shields before, but now I document that I was in “full PPE” when I write a patient’s note after doffing the gown, mask, glove, and shield I wore to care for them. The people who refuse to do anything to prevent the rampaging spread of the pandemic are “anti-maskers,” though there are more familiar and less charitable terms I can also think of to describe them.
To this list, I can add “vaccine envy.” I’ll write it in just under “maskne.”
Over the past week, I’ve watched as health-care personnel across the country have begun to be vaccinated against COVID-19. When I saw video of Sandra Lindsay, a critical-care nurse, becoming one of the first people in our country to receive a vaccine outside of a clinical trial, I started to cry. It was a moment of such joy and such relief, a feeling of hope that was so welcome after a long absence.
In the days to come, my social media began to light up with friends across the United States who work in critical care or emergency medicine getting their vaccinations. One of my best friends, a nurse in New Jersey, texted a picture of her own vaccine record with the word “COVID” written next to the day’s date. Some of my fellow pediatricians are starting to get their shots, or notification of when theirs will be coming.
I am so happy for all of these people. Medical providers who have spent shift after shift caring for those hospitalized with COVID, cleaning their rooms or bringing them their meals—all of these people deserve to be standing at the very front of the line. I am overjoyed for every last one of them.
But there is also no point in pretending I’m not more than a little jealous, and a tiny bit anxious. I would desperately love to join them.
While I’m not delivering critical care to COVID patients, they’ve certainly begun to arrive at my office in increasing numbers. The summer months when tests for the novel coronavirus came back negative far more often than not are gone, and I clearly recall the moment in late autumn when I listened to a patient describing their symptoms and knew even before the test came back that it would be positive.
The pace has only quickened since then. Even within all that PPE I’m wearing in a room with a patient whom I suspect or know has COVID, I would really love knowing I’d also received the protection that will come with receiving the vaccine.
As of now, I have no idea when that will be.
My practice is part of a larger group of pediatric offices affiliated with a major hospital in Boston. I know that those tasked with arranging for our providers and support staffs are working diligently on our behalf. Unlike at Stanford, where an algorithm for vaccine distribution appeared to prioritize lower-risk faculty over residents who had been working shift after shift in ICUs, I have no concern that keeping us safe as we deliver care out in the community isn’t important to those responsible for those making it happen.
But that’s also pretty much the extent of what I know about my status when it comes to getting vaccinated. People are working on it.
At this point, even if it’s not for several weeks, I’d just welcome a hard date.
News that deliveries of Pfizer’s vaccines to the states would be far below what had been promised only adds to my worry. Would one of those thousands of doses that’s been delayed have been scheduled for me? I know I’d be far less uneasy if I felt like the president was working nearly as diligently on vaccine delivery as he is on reversing his loss in the last election.
Ultimately, even as I refresh my work email every 20 minutes hoping for an update, I realize being in my position is a reflection of tremendous privilege. Whenever it arrives, I’ll very likely receive my vaccine before millions of Americans just as eager to receive theirs. I deserve it not one bit more than the people likely to be in the next wave, all the teachers and grocery-store workers and everyone else who has worked so hard to keep this country running. The patience I will need won’t have to last as long as it will for so many other people who need it no less than I do.
Every exposed deltoid and happy smile from behind a mask is one more person on the way—with a second dose weeks later—to protection in their work to deliver medical care at a time of tremendous need. Every last one is a reason to take a moment and celebrate. I am overjoyed that those moments have begun.
I just really hope mine comes soon.