Grey-area vaccine justification is an act of cowardice and should be announced with the appropriate shame

Which is what I'm doing here (because vaccines and shame are actually both good)

Hiya, Sternal Journalists,

So I’m getting my vaccine tomorrow, and I… feel a little ashamed. Which I think is how it should be. Let me explain.

I got en e-mail a few weeks ago from my boss’ boss’ boss saying that, as LA County had opened up vaccine eligibility to educators, and my place of employment is a non-profit education center, we were now eligible.

And not in a “Hey, I think we count. You all should try this and maybe we’ll get lucky” way, but a “I reached out to the appropriate people to confirm that this officially applies to our organization and it does.”

This was… good news? Sure. Of course, in a vacuum, becoming vaccine-eligible was great, fantastic, amazing news. But outside the vacuum, we have a statewide population who, as of writing, is 75% untouched by a vaccine needle. Do I really belong in the first quarter of people vaccinated in California (and essentially the country?)

I wasn’t sure. So I pushed back in our next meeting. I said, “Are we sure we actually should qualify? Like, is this really for us?”

Some of you may be saying, “BUT JULIAN! If you’re offered a dose, you’re supposed to take it!” This is true. This is very true. But. Except. However. I have heard way too many instances of people turning “if you’re offered one, take it” into “if you’re able to secure one without technically lying, take it.”

Those two are not really the same thing. And just because the system—and the clinicians and policymakers who work within it—are all too overworked to properly vet every single person signing up for an appointment, doesn’t mean taking a vaccine that, on paper, applies to you, but in practice you don’t need, is the “right” thing to do.

People are still dying. People in at-risk populations are still unvaccinated. Everyone is scared of this thing, as we have been for a year, but some people are statistically way more likely to be okay. I am one of those people. Which is why, when I was told by my employer to get the vaccine because I qualified for it, I asked, “Do we really need to?”

And, basically, I was told that we do. Even though our centers aren’t open right now, the goal is to open them as soon as possible so that we can get our after-school programs, field trips, and summer camps back up and running and hopefully start to remedy some of the learning loss that occurred this year. Basically, I was told: “While we are not working in person right now, we will be very soon. So we need to prepare. Please get vaccinated.”

Ultimately, I feel good about this. But I still have some guilt. I could have said, “I need to see the plan. I need to know that we’re actually going to be opening or else this is kind of shitty of us.” I decided that would be too much, even for me. I have certainly roused some rabble at this workplace in the past and likely will in the future. But how do I know what percentage of my decision (that this would be too much) was influenced by my fear of the virus? I can’t know that.

I’m not 90. I’m pretty healthy. I work at a job that (right now) allows me to be fully remote. I am not a slam dunk candidate for vaccine qualification, but I’ve been convinced (by myself and others) that this is the right thing for me to do.

Here’s where the shame comes in: I think it’s my duty to be a little bit ashamed of this. I think anyone who is not one of those true slam-dunk vaccine candidates but is still getting vaccinated, needs a healthy dose (or two!) of shame.

Because, and this is my main point, we should be trying to not go back to how a lot of things were! Remember two months ago when, if you were finagling or line-jumping, we all agreed you were a total piece of shit? That’s because we were still in the worst part of the pandemic. It was ethically a cinch to know that you shouldn’t take a vaccine from a 95 year old. We were all still “in it together.” But also, nobody was vaccinated. Only 95 year olds, none of whom are competing for your jobs or (sorry, 95 year olds) are people you want to hang out with.

But now that parents, doctors, people who are beginning to feel like peers, are starting to get it, we can’t just feel like we all deserve it! People are still dying! Just because you now know it’s going to be available to you soon doesn’t mean you won’t contribute to rising COVID infections and deaths by taking it kind of out of turn now. We can see the end, but we’re not there yet.

So just like… chill! It’s going to be over soon. Do all the things you said you were going to do this past year but didn’t. Write your pilot, your play, your novel. Clean out that fucking closet. You’re going to have social obligations again very soon, just not quite yet.

And if you’ve got the vaxy or are about to… also chill! That’s where (for real this time) the shame comes in. You did what you had to do. You worked within the parameters of what you decided was right. So did I. And it will probably all be (relatively) okay. But now that you’re vaccinated, and now that you were able to secure yourself a vaccination, start to think about how you can use your vaccinated body to start rebuilding.

Because this shame I’m pushing on all of us? It’s not a punishment. It’s a dang superpower.

If you pestered a drugstore every day for a month for extra doses and finally got one, harness your shame and look around in your community. Is there someone else you know or could meet who you could start annoying Walgreens for again? If you didn't go to any BLM protests because you were worried about COVID, but now you’ve snagged an early dose somehow? Get your poster and your shame and get thee to a demonstration! If you’ve lived your whole life thinking “being an activist” is a specific job or trait or anything other than a choice you make for yourself one day at a time, strap on your shame-blades and skate on down to the library to research all of the systemic issues in your town or country. There’s one that you can latch onto, I promise.

But most of all, be ashamed because people are making it look way too cool to be vaccinated early. People are feeling pressured. The fomo is getting real, and if we have a goddamn millennial run-on-the-banks but it’s clinics and they aren’t worried about their money, they’re worried about being able to go to fucking rosé barbecues, we could actually fuck up the end of this thing.

I’m glad any individual who is vaccinated is vaccinated. But let’s keep our heads on straight, remember how much we’ve talked about having changed over the past year, and try to actually be it (changed).

I welcome thoughts on this, supportive, in opposition, or from different angles. I know this could come off as some plain old Julian shit-talk, but I really just wanted to highlight a thing that is murmuring up in a lot of conversations I’m having privately right now. It’s been a stressful year. I want to do whatever I can to ease tension in my little corner of the world and, though we aren’t (quite yet) able to have loud, friendly arguments in bars, this was an attempt to air out some stuff that I think is getting a lot of us wound up in the home stretch.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Podcast: Odessa. The Daily’s Annie Brown embedded at one of the first schools in the country to go back to in-person teaching.

Podcast: Dead Eyes. Just listened to the end of season 2 of this zany meditation on rejection, wherein actor Connor Ratliff investigates why he was fired by Tom Hanks for a small part in Band of Brothers, and specifically whether it’s true that (as he was told) Hanks thought he had “dead eyes.” Season 2 finale is very, very good.

Movie: Judas and the Black Messiah. A friend of the Journ described this as “maybe my favorite movie of the year, but I don't know I’d ever want to watch it again.” That’s about as clear a review as you should need. Stupendous and gut-wrenching.

Album: Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder). Listened for the first time as I’m working through the Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums list. Also stupendous. (I welcome other greatest albums lists, this is the only Big one I know of).

T-shirts: The She’s Been Trying to Staff Forever shirt is still available. I only need to sell one (1) more for the bulk discount to kick in, thereby making about $50 more Shower of Hope. Also, the website is live. Next item to drop may not be a shirt. Open to ideas!

Donate: there are many people and places organizing in the wake of the hate crime committed in Georgia last week (rather, continuing to organize, as the issues of anti-AAPI violence and racism are not new). I donated $35 to the Georgia chapter of NAPAWF (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum). If you want to match me, or donate more, or less, you can do so here (it’s for the national page, but you can specify a chapter when you donate).

Much love as always and maybe even a little more right now,

Julian