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The newest curse of covid-19 is vaccine envy

A button reads “Got My Shot,” in reference to a coronavirus vaccination.
A button reads “Got My Shot,” in reference to a coronavirus vaccination. (CJ Gunther/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

We have now reached the envy stage of the pandemic.

Social media posts like “I got a golden ticket to get the vaccine!!!” “First vaccine dose done!” or photos of (some really cool) buttons, stickers, pins and medical cards declaring the bearer vaccinated are being met with resentment:

“How did you get it so early?”

“Lowkey jealous.”

Or, “Highkey jealous.”

And a pointed, “Are you part of a risk group? Hawaii only vaccinating people over 75 right now.”

That’s what D.C. therapist Yuly Rios got from an Aloha State friend who wondered when she’d get a shot at the vaccine. (Who lives in Hawaii and is jealous of anything in D.C.? Woman, please.)

Rios is a health-care worker, part of the group getting priority in D.C. for vaccines — something she’s had to explain to anyone wondering why a healthy, vivacious 36-year-old gets to move to the front of the line there.

The truth is, as with many instances of envy, this strain of green-eyed monster is born of inequity.

The rules on who gets vaccinated first are different in each state, with hierarchies based on profession, age, health history or — most recently in D.C. — Zip code.

In Kentucky, you only have to be 60 years old to get it. In Ohio, the rollout began with people 80 and older. A grocery store cashier gets to move to the front of the line in Kansas, but not New Jersey. Teachers in Arizona and Arkansas are eligible now, but not yet in South Carolina or South Dakota.

That’s when those “I got vaccinated” posts sting.

Members of Congress — even the deniers — cut in line to get the vaccine first.

“So happy, yet kind of jealous that my best friend got her first vaccine today,” Diana Szymborski wrote on Twitter.

Szymborski, 57, explained her envy and frustration when we talked: “We’re the same age and both work for schools. But she lives in Illinois, and I’m in Indiana.”

Ariel Serkin is a chemistry teacher in Massachusetts and is in the classroom with students four days a week, but she’s not close to getting a vaccine.

“The process and tiers pit people against each other,” said Serkin, 42. “I don’t begrudge others for getting theirs, but I’m jealous and it’s hard not to be resentful . . . Others don’t have the same exposure but get it before us.”

The vaccine isn’t just eeny-meeny-miny-moeing between best friends and professional communities. It’s happening in marriages, too.

His wife, his in-laws — everyone in Joe Mastrangelo’s Massachusetts family got the vaccine. Except for him.

He confessed that on the day his wife, a mental-health-care worker, got it, he was “90 percent thrilled and 10 percent jealous, to be honest.”

“I’m just going to sit here twiddling my thumbs until sometime in April,” said Mastrangelo, who described himself as a “healthy 37-year-old with a desk job.”

“The rest of my family all works with hospitals, with mass transit, one works in a prison. They’re all higher risk than me and definitely getting [the vaccine] well before I am.”

Back in D.C., Rios has the same dynamic.

“My partner is 34, and he’s not going to get it anytime soon,” she said. “He was happy for me. But then, he’s just wondering, ‘When is my turn?’ ”

The only constant in every state seems to be the disparate way the coronavirus has hit communities of color, and the way the vaccine is a little AWOL there.

One out of every 645 Black Americans has died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, while 1 out of every 825 White Americans has been killed by the disease, according to a report, “The Color of Coronavirus,” by data analysts at the American Public Media Research Lab. But when it comes to vaccinations, White Americans are being vaccinated three times as fast as Black Americans, according to data from the 23 states that are reporting these kinds of details.

Part of that disparity is about access, both to facilities vaccinating people and because the complicated, online application process locks out those who find it tougher to get on the Internet.

When numbers showed that people from wealthier wards in D.C. were getting vaccinated at much higher rates than those in less-affluent, harder-hit parts of the city, the government tried to change that by limiting some new appointments to those who live in certain Zip codes.

In Washington, a struggle for vaccine equity

All of that can make any social media announcement about that golden ticket feel like an unnecessary gloat.

But that’s not why Rios posted about her vaccination.

“The death rates, that’s something that’s happening to my population, Latinos, right now,” she said. And she was worried that some “might not trust the vaccine.”

Beyond access, the historic mistrust in communities of color thanks to the not-so-distant shame of experimentation is helping keep people away.

So Rios posted photos on Facebook of her getting the shot, her vaccination card and her thumbs up at the clinic where she works, Mary’s Center in D.C., in part to send the message that getting vaccinated is important in her community.

Her employer “encouraged us to get the vaccine so we can also convince more people to get it,” she said.

Angela Thomas got some guff from folks who envied her access after she posted the video of herself getting vaccinated.

For Thomas, a 41-year-old health-care executive at MedStar Health Research Institute, the guff was worth it.

She said it was important for her, as a Black woman, to show people that she trusts the vaccine.

“My social media is family, friends, people who trust me,” she said. “I wanted them to see me get it, to ask questions and to know I made a decision based on science.”

Twitter: @petulad

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