Mar 19, 2021 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Xixi Qin
Over the past several weeks, Colorado College students have lined the curb of the Summit Medical Center parking lot by the dozens and flaunted their CDC-issued COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards on social media.
Images of bundled-up students camped out with snacks, schoolwork and smiley selfies have prompted much debate over the ethics of the situation and resulted in yet another opportunity during this pandemic for people to shame each other’s behavior.
CC has urged students to wait their turn and only get a vaccine when their respective phase is being vaccinated, but I believe that students getting inoculated even earlier than their assigned group is not a bad thing.
For starters, college students are super-spreaders. In fact, the 20 to 34 age cohort in the U.S., at least until mid-August, is expected to be responsible for 34.7% of virus transmission. CC students getting vaccinated actually makes everyone safer, even if others haven’t been vaccinated themselves.
Additionally, this brings up the notion of entitlement — who deserves the earliest access to the vaccines? In my opinion, this issue is somewhat subjective. There is no question that essential frontline workers, like doctors, firefighters, and teachers, should be able to get vaccinated as soon as possible because their work involves close contact with others, sometimes even those infected with COVID-19, and they provide essential services to the public.
Other groups that are currently being vaccinated, like those with two or more high risk conditions, could be, I think, receiving partial treatment that does not necessarily reflect a higher degree of deserving. For example, pregnancy is listed as one of these high-risk conditions which, in tandem with another high-risk condition, is grounds for someone to get vaccinated in Colorado today.
Taken on its own, this designation as a “high-risk condition” raises questions about how much primacy pregnant women should get in the vaccine rollout; should everyone in a pregnant woman’s household also be vaccinated to prevent her contraction of COVID-19? Does this unfairly favor people or families with a pregnancy over those without one?
Another condition labeled “high risk” by the Colorado Department of Health & Environment is obesity. Not only can this give those people who aren’t obese a false sense of security against the virus due to their status as not being “high risk,” it is yet another easily exploitable condition that I can personally attest to people taking advantage of. Parents in my hometown of Wilmette, Illinois, are saying that their children, who compete in varsity sports, fit this category and are successfully able to get them vaccinated.
The idea that certain people “deserve” to get vaccinated more than others is, to some degree, valid and up to the ethical standard that is so often touted by those who are quick to shame “out of order” vaccinations. However, it does, I think, create the illusion that those not prioritized aren’t still at risk for reacting poorly in the event of contracting COVID-19 and favor groups subjectively.
Another facet of the “deserving” argument that is extremely frustrating as a young person is the primacy that older cohorts, who have created problems like the climate crisis we currently find ourselves in, are given over younger ones, who have inherited the lofty and serious responsibility of solving our ancestors’ mistakes.
Young people, throughout the pandemic, have been blamed and shamed for breaking social distancing and violating their responsibility to protect their elders from a serious threat. But from a young generation’s perspective, older generations knew about climate change –– an issue that wouldn’t necessarily come to fruition in their lifetimes but instead would during ours –– and continued to abuse the earth.
At least from a theoretical perspective, why should younger generations sacrifice their own health for that of older generations when the latter refused to sacrifice economic gains for us?
There is also no guarantee that someone necessarily more deserving than you, or in this case a CC student, will receive a vaccine should you turn one down on the grounds that you don’t qualify as “deserving.”
A perfectly healthy person could turn down a vaccine, thinking that they are better equipped to deal with COVID-19 than someone else –– someone older or more “at risk,” for example –– and, in fact, react terribly. You can’t know for sure how sick you will be if you get COVID-19, and it’s almost hubristic to assume the best when we know that this virus has killed young people, too.
At the end of the day, a vaccine in any arm is a step in the right direction and a move towards the end of this pandemic. Vaccines in the arms of CC students not only protects those individuals, they also protect our college community and populations designated more vulnerable. We should not let the politics of blaming distract from the end goal: to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible and prevent even more tragedy.