On Tuesday, I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. I am proud to be, as a result, the first person at Discourse Blog to be vaccinated against COVID. Not that it was a competition or anything — the plan to stop the spread of the virus and the subsequent vaccine rollout has been so poorly mismanaged, how could it be? I didn’t even know I’d be getting it until a little over a week ago
I knew I qualified in Texas because of my body mass index, which I have already discussed in another blog as being a very fake metric for anything related to health, but has still become a qualifier for the early vaccination group. On that day, I hadn’t checked the website of the medical system I was trying to get a vaccine through until seeing a friend get her vaccine at the same location I anticipated getting mine at. When I visited the website, I found lots of open appointment slots on the system’s booking calendar. (If you live near the north Austin area, I’ve shared more about how I booked through Family Hospital Systems here.)
I had already accepted that getting a vaccine would take much longer, so had it come down to it, I don’t think I would have minded the wait, but I didn’t really get vaccinated for my sake, even though I know I needed it, too. My boyfriend is really who we’ve been looking out for this past year.
Christian has had Type 1 diabetes since he was a child. We just happened to start living together last January, and when the pandemic started, he stocked up on insulin. Admittedly, I am an idiot, and questioned if it was really that necessary to have so many months of insulin stored amid a shortage. It was very simple though — if he runs out of insulin, he dies. Right now, the CDC says having Type 1 diabetes may increase severe illness from COVID.
That might just be something to “keep an eye on” on its own, depending on who you are, but Christian had also been severely ill the year before, for months. We decided early on in 2019 that we’d take it easy that year, and save our big trips for 2020.
But what we did have booked — nearly an entire month of traveling up the West Coast — we canceled. We weren’t going to live like people who (often understandably) felt safe to drink on patios and wear masks indoors with strangers when they were required, because we literally could not risk it.
We got vaccinated in the massive parking lot of the concrete football stadium where both our high school teams played. We stayed in our car the entire time, just cruising from station to station. Masked volunteers lined the designated pathway for cars to check in at a huddle of tents and verify their qualification, then drive up to another area of tents to get their shot, then to a third area to wait the mandated 15 minutes after the vaccine before driving away.
I was a little nervous, because I don’t like needles, but I didn’t feel much more than pressure in my arm. I was more embarrassed than anything, feeling like, “Oh shit, this is really happening,” as a man at the vaccine tent took my ID from me to write down my information on a vaccine record sheet, a nurse right behind him to swoop in and prod me. I struggled to remove my jacket and pull up my short sleeve, not thinking to unbuckle my seat belt until I was already accidentally pulling down my neckline and showing off my bra strap. She was a good sport about it though: “Everyone is so bundled up today!” She made Christian bleed a little bit more, but he said he didn’t feel it much either.
That night, we both had trouble moving our arms, but the following morning my pain had subsided, and his did the night after that.
And now, we’re vaccinated. And in another 25 days from now, Family Hospitals Systems is supposed to contact us via email to let us know it’s time to register for our second COVID vaccine dose.
I hadn’t thought about this moment, because I really did not anticipate this outcome to be so attainable. What it would feel to be someone who survived to be on the “other side” of the pandemic, where there’s a vaccine, and where you’re incrementally more safe against the COVID should you get it?
I remember the early narrative around COVID was that the virus “leveled the playing field” across economic privilege and racial disparities, but we know that didn’t end up being true. And so as someone who worked from home for years before the pandemic, who could afford contactless grocery pickup and delivery, and as a result had a very easy time not coming into contact with people for much of the year, I haven’t considered much the chance that I could die, because while it does exist for everyone, I knew based upon my privileges that it was lower than most. But I certainly did not think that I would have been able to get vaccinated as soon as I did.
Now that I’m sitting with it and processing this new reality, I don’t feel that changed. I’m relieved, but not in the way that makes you put your hand on your chest and close your eyes and say, “Oh thank god.” It’s more just a feeling of recognizing that we’ve personally reached a turning point during the pandemic, and now all we can do from here is continue what we’ve been doing, and wait. I have considered what it might be like to take this as an opportunity to feel safe to drink on an outdoor patio, or eat indoors, and it just wouldn’t make sense as something to do until we’re at some critical mass of people who are vaccinated. My fear is that I could be vaccinated, and see vaccinated friends, and still get it, and give it to my parents, though the risk of that happening isn’t certain. At the very least, I wouldn’t have to be so worried about what would happen if Christian got COVID, but relief for the largest of my worries is not relief for the rest of them.
Really, I am just trying to not feel the guilt that I anticipated I might feel when I decided that, because I have a BMI that classifies me as “obese” — because I am fat — I will get vaccinated. I know this vaccine rollout has been mismanaged by state and federal governments and systemically fucked. I know that I qualify and realistically need the vaccine just as much as Christian does. But I also know I’m a lot better insulated from COVID than a lot of people who qualify just as much as I do, who run a much higher risk of getting sick than I do by sheer virtue of working an in-person job that they can’t or don’t want to quit.
I am sure there are a lot of other fat people who are dealing with the stigma of being fat in the context of qualifying for the vaccine, and feeling criticism for being “rewarded” for what many people consider to be “a moral failure” and something to inherently be ashamed for. That is such a fucked up form of guilt, but not one that I’ve internalized. It’s similar though, I guess — I more so feel guilt because, if I wasn’t fat, under the current circumstances of the rollout I wouldn’t qualify to get the vaccine right now. And as it stands, if I had the ability to personally wait to get the vaccine, as I said I do, shouldn’t I have just waited altogether so that people like Christian, or like my parents, could get vaccinated instead? But then I think about how me getting the vaccine also protects these same people, and the logic falls apart.
It makes sense, and it doesn’t. I know it’s not my fault that someone didn’t get a vaccine on Tuesday, especially considering just how fraught the “leftover vaccine” situation has become — christ, Houston tried to charge a doctor for doing the right thing with expiring doses. I wonder how much of this feeling is being dictated by this struggle between my internalized fatphobia and my resistance to internalizing fatphobia — these warring ideas that I am simultaneously not worthy of the same care as others because I am fat, and also am not inherently bad nor unhealthy for being fat, all during a health crisis where being fat puts you at a significantly higher risk for severe illness from COVID.
Ultimately, I am feeling that getting vaccinated was just another thing that I did this year to keep Christian and myself and other people safe. But in lieu of having a government that can properly prioritize and distribute vaccines to the most vulnerable people, I’m left feeling like my personal responsibility somehow plays a role in those folks being vaccinated, too. I know it doesn’t make sense, but after being told for so long that it’s up to us to slow the spread of COVID, it’s what I can’t help but feel.