Vials of the COVID-19 vaccine

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility changing weekly, it can be normal to feel like you are taking vaccines away from people that need them— especially if you are young and healthy. I felt this way too, but after talking with my parents, I realized I should not feel bad for getting my vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

The faster eligible members of the community get vaccinated, the faster we reach herd immunity. The World Health Organization defines herd immunity as “the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through the previous infection.” A couple of months ago, it was still unknown how many vaccines needed to be administered to reach herd immunity. However, experts have now estimated that 70-90% of the community may need to be fully immune. So once you are eligible, get vaccinated.

This is where vaccine guilt can start to kick in. If you are eligible to get the vaccine, it is for a reason. Experts know what they are doing; there is a reason for this vaccine rollout process—so trust them. Waiting to schedule your appointment to avoid taking a spot from someone else that may seem more at risk to you does not guarantee that the at-risk person will actually schedule it— or that anyone will, for that matter. Don’t let vaccines go to waste; make your appointment.

Now vaccine availability and eligibility can differ depending on the state. In North Carolina, Groups 1-3 are eligible for the vaccine. The NC Department of Health and Human Services said that Group 1 includes health care workers and long-term care staff. Group 2 includes older adults, ages 65 and up. And as of Feb. 24, eligibility opened to group three members, including child-care frontline workers and K-12 school workers. As of March 3, North Carolina expanded that group to any additional frontline workers—including restaurant employees.

If you do not currently fit any of the eligibility criteria, as soon as vaccines are open to the general public (Group 5), I recommend you schedule right away. It will definitely be far more difficult when everyone is allowed to at once —which is part of the reason for a group by group roll out in the first place.

For some people, it still may seem like it’s too early to rush out and get the vaccine, even if they are eligible, simply because they are healthy. However, getting the vaccine means you are not only protecting yourself from a deadly disease, but you are also protecting at-risk individuals. The fact is, the vaccine doesn’t stop you from getting ill. It stops you from falling so ill that you may need to be hospitalized or worse. So why wouldn’t you get vaccinated if it meant you could save someone else’s life, along with your own?

My dad— a sweet 62-year-old man—felt guilty that he was eligible with Group 1 simply because he takes care of my at-risk grandmother full time. He didn’t feel he needed it right away since his job went virtual back in March, giving him fewer reasons to have to leave the house. I encouraged him to understand that whether he liked it or not, he was putting himself more at risk by not getting it. Even if that meant receiving the vaccine in a group with very at-risk individuals, even a trip into the grocery store could cause him to fall ill. Not to mention, it would help guarantee the protection of my grandmother. Last week, my mom and dad received their first dose of the vaccine with still some slight hesitation. Encourage the people you care about that are eligible to get it.

I also understand, however, where some of the hesitations stem from what we saw back in March and April of 2020. Many of us can remember watching nurses and hospitals beg on live TV for supplies, including masks and ventilators. This has rolled over into what we think vaccine supply currently looks like. While we have a limited supply of vaccines in the U.S., it is not as limited as some may think. The Biden Administration is constantly buying more doses of each of the three available vaccines— Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. On March 10, the administration announced the purchase of an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. This now brings the total to 600 million doses bought in the U.S., enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans (since Pfizer and Moderna require two doses). Biden even stated that “Any surplus of the vaccine will be shared with other countries.” So yes, supplies are limited, but it’s not the same sort of limitation that caused the sweet old lady down the road to hand-sew masks and send them to healthcare workers in need.

This time last year, I am not sure who could have said we would be encouraging people to run out and get their COVID-19 vaccine. But 534,000 deaths later, this vaccine is the biggest piece of hope to appear in this extremely long and dark tunnel. Do not feel guilty for getting the vaccine, no matter when you get it. Instead, know that you are doing your part in saving lives.

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