Eau Claire Columnist Reflects on Getting Vaccine While Suffering From ‘Survivor’s Guilt’




By dougmell

January 26, 2021

People age 65 and older among those added to the eligibility list.

The call came shortly before 11 a.m.Tuesday, and I almost didn’t answer because I didn’t recognize the number. 

I’m glad I did because it was my healthcare provider calling to offer me a chance to save my life by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

I received that notice after Wisconsin officials announced that state residents like me, age 65 and over, would be eligible to be part of the second phase of the state vaccine rollout, known as Group 1B. That made me able to receive that life-saving shot as I will turn 66 early next month. I answered a few health-related questions, and both the first and the second vaccine injections were scheduled.

After making my vaccination appointments, I called my wife and gave her the good news. Thankfully, I have not lost anyone close to me to this disease. But I certainly have had friends and acquaintances who have been laid low by it, and I know, given my age, that contracting the virus could have dire ramifications for me. Getting the vaccine would assuage these concerns.

Then the mixed feelings hit like a ton of bricks.

While I obviously was ecstatic that hope was on the horizon that I, unlike more than 400,000 U.S. citizens nationwide, would not die of this horrible virus, I was seized with the nagging thought that I was taking the place of someone who was much more at risk than I am. 

Those higher-risk individuals include the men and women who check me out when I buy my groceries, the delivery service personnel who bring those Amazon packages to my door, the fast-food workers who hand me my takeout orders while I stay safely in my car, and many others who help me meet my daily needs.

Those feelings intensified last while I watched the national COVID-19 memorial service from Washington, D.C., on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president of the United States. I found myself crying, and not only because the song “Amazing Grace” always makes me emotional. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those deaths could have been prevented by having officials in charge who took this pandemic seriously from day one, and who had the political fortitude to do what was necessary to put the lives of citizens first rather than the next election.

If anything, this ceremony made the guilt I feel over winning the vaccine lottery even more raw. I know that I didn’t make the rules about who will get the vaccine now and who will have to wait–and I did nothing untoward to receive that life-saving call. And I certainly kept the first of my two appointments to get the vaccine.

Interestingly, I am now seeing news reports about others who had the same feelings of so-called “survivor’s guilt.” In fact, NBC News published a report over the weekend that said, in part: “As more people get vaccinations, what was supposed to be a celebratory event of relief has come with mixed emotions. Vaccine shortages, mismanagement, unequal distribution and stories of expiring doses have made some who’ve received it feel guilty even though their states have said it’s their turn for the shot.”

I talked to a friend of mine, Tim Adler, from Eau Claire, who shared similar sentiments about his upcoming vaccine appointment. 

“I think it’s sort of that Catholic guilt about ‘why should I get the vaccine before somebody else?’” Adler said.  “At the same time, there is a system, and a person would be a fool not to take advantage of the vaccine when it was offered.”

While I was waiting for my vaccine, I harkened back to those stunning images of the COVID-19 memorial and tried to remember those who died before they could receive that call from their healthcare provider. 

I will continue to do everything possible to reduce the spread of the disease: I’ll wear a mask, I’ll avoid large gatherings, and I’ll socially distance and wash my hands. Those are the small things I can do to honor the 400,000 people who died before they were offered the vaccine.


CATEGORIES: Commentary


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