I got vaccinated recently through Giant Eagle, and I didn’t realize how strange it would feel.
I’ve been eligible since late January, when Pennsylvania adopted the new CDC vaccination guidelines that moved smokers to group 1A. I wasn’t worried about it at the time because I had COVID-19 in early December and needed to wait 90 days to schedule an appointment. However, when my 90 days was up, I was surprisingly hesitant.
There was a lot of uproar around the decision to place smokers in 1A. Some people thought it was outright unfair that a choice (an objectively bad choice, by the way) someone makes could give them the priority afforded to disabled and elderly Americans.
At first, I wondered whether I should schedule an appointment out of fear that I would be judged by the vaccine clinic employees or the other patients there. I thought, well, I survived COVID-19 in December, so should I really be rushing to the front of the line like that? Would I be taking an appointment away from someone who ‘really’ needs it?
No one really talks about these questions, and all of them can be overwhelming.
The reality is that, yes, I should make an appointment as soon as possible, and putting it off doesn’t help anyone. In fact, if I didn’t get vaccinated, I would be actively hurting the people I was trying to protect. Even if I were to get sick again, the vaccine would help prevent me spreading the illness to others, and it would lessen my symptoms.
Plus, the CDC and our state’s health department made the informed decision to allot 1A vaccine appointments to smokers, so I’m not ‘taking’ appointments away from anyone. There’s no guarantee that the vaccine I received would’ve gone to someone I deemed more ‘worthy’ than me, so there’s really no point in waiting.
Eventually, after some research and a lot of self-encouragement, I signed up for a few vaccine clinic waitlists. I secured an appointment at Heinz Field and was ecstatic. However, I was overcome with another wave of guilt once I got my first dose.
I couldn’t help but think of everyone else who never even got the chance to get vaccinated. I thought I would celebrate and feel relief afterwards, but instead, it was a solemn event.
I was nervous to discuss it on social media. I worried that if I explained why I was eligible it would start a debate over the 1A phase, and I knew I couldn’t talk about it without being asked how I was able to get vaccinated.
No one prepares you for these feelings. I’m here to tell you that they’re normal, though. People all over the world experience guilt after getting vaccinated. You may feel guilty because you’re eligible before other people you know or because you’re experiencing survivor’s guilt.
I feel lucky to be here after recovering from COVID-19 with no lasting complications, and I am more than grateful to have been vaccinated. Even though I felt guilty at first, I know that I did the right thing and I’m proud.
And if you’re still waiting for your turn, please, don’t shame or guilt anyone for getting vaccinated. Of course it’s wrong to lie about your eligibility, but if you know someone was eligible under the current state guidelines, don’t judge them. They didn’t write the Department of Health’s guidelines! Shaming them makes them feel worse, and it discourages others from getting vaccinated when it’s their turn out of fear they’re not deserving enough. We should be celebrating all vaccinations.
If you’re struggling with these same feelings, reach out to your friends and family. Talk to other people in your community who’ve been vaccinated, too; they’ve probably experienced the same things. Remember that your vaccination is a step towards eliminating COVID-19 and bringing us together once again.