Ellen Manning, The Independent
I had my COVID vaccine last week. Which is great news. But while others are sporting their stickers, posting selfies with needles in their arms and celebrating the moment, I have only told a handful of people and, even then, have done so nervously. Why? Because somehow I can’t shake the feeling that I’m a bit of a fraud.
While my mum has received her first dose, my dad is yet to have his, and friends and neighbours at least a couple of decades older than me are still waiting for theirs. My husband, a firefighter who has worked throughout the COVID crisis, is also yet to have his jab. Yet here am I — one dose down, one to go.
At 38 with no underlying health conditions, I don’t fall into a vulnerable group. I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d be unlikely to get mine until much later — long after my parents, older friends and those whose health conditions make them vulnerable. So how have I become one of the 15 million people to get their vaccine already? The reason is simple.
In early January my local council asked for volunteers for its targeted testing centres. I put my name down and have been giving up a few hours each week to meet and greet people at the centre and help take their information. My contribution isn’t enormous, but like everyone who signs up, I hope it helps in some way. Fast forward a few weeks and it turns out that volunteering at a testing centre makes me a key worker. It also means I was invited for a vaccine.
It makes sense, given we’re out there mixing with people — albeit with strict levels of protection and training. Yet when I received my invite my immediate reaction wasn’t joy — but discomfort. How do I merit getting mine so soon when my own father hasn’t? My husband, who doesn’t volunteer to mix with the public but has to because it’s his job? Just like teachers, healthcare workers, public servants and others with little choice in the matter.
I went for my vaccine. As she injected me the nurse assured me I do deserve it as much as the next person. Yet I’ve told few people. My family, close friends, but other than that I’ve stayed quiet, nervous of people’s reactions. Will they say it’s unfair? Will they say I should have declined so someone more deserving could get theirs? Will they think I volunteered solely for the “perk” of an early vaccine? We all know the system isn’t perfect, and already questions have been raised about people getting vaccines before others, including Jo Whiley who asked why she was offered one ahead of her vulnerable sister.
It’s understandable. The vaccine has been sold as the “way out” of the pandemic and for those in vulnerable groups it is far more than a ticket to holidays — it’s a vital protection that could finally allow them to see loved ones or regain some freedom. With so much riding on it, is it any wonder that emotions run high when seemingly healthy people get the jab while others are still waiting?
I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable. This week a friend revealed she had been invited for hers but asked me not to tell our mutual friends as she, too, felt she didn’t “deserve” to be getting it so soon. Of course she does. The NHS has invited her and at some point we must trust in the system and the order in which it invites us, whilst also accepting that nothing is perfect and when you’re managing a vaccine rollout for over 60 million people, there might be the odd mix-up with whose turn is when.
But like me, she feels guilty for “jumping the queue” and worried about people’s reactions.
Having this long-awaited vaccine really is a positive moment and we should all feel overjoyed. But maybe I’ll save my celebration until we can all enjoy it together.
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