ASK THE SOPHIST: May I Call Out My Friend for Jumping the Vaccination Line?

in Hmm Weekly
on February 16, 2021

Dear The Sophist, 
My friend chose to “misread” our state’s vaccine requirements—on purpose, because supposedly “everyone else” was doing it at her K-8 school—and skipped the line ahead of people who are 70+ and healthcare workers/staff because it’s an honor system to sign up. Our group text told her she was wrong but she chose to ignore. I’m definitely eligible under a close neighboring state (and probably ours but not as explicitly) and had gotten the vaccine a week before her, but did not tell anyone because I’m morally ambivalent on my own vaccine. I do know I’m livid about her not qualifying anywhere near here but just saying eff it, but can I even say that she’s going to have to make peace with her Jesus when they do qualify K-12 teachers in our state?

—Inflamed Reaction

Dear Busy Antibody,
Congratulations on getting the shot! It’s not entirely clear from your letter which lines were crossed here—for instance, it’s hard to tell whether you’re saying you got your own vaccine by jumping the border to a state where you don’t actually live, or whether you got it by deciding to believe your own state had given you not-exactly-explicit permission.

The Sophist is not judging you! The broken official response to the pandemic has left everyone in a state of ethical and logistical confoundment. If Americans had been given a chance to work together, under an organized systemic response, we might all be going mask-free to rugby games right now, like the New Zealanders. Or doing whatever they’re doing in Seoul, without all the publicity the Kiwis get. But we don’t even like rugby, and we’ve killed hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily. The message here is: you have to look out for yourself, and then you have to look out for what other people are doing, so you can blame them for the ways in which they are making things worse.

You feel bad about your COVID shot, and you don’t want to talk about it. Your friend does want to talk about her COVID shot, and you think she should feel bad about it. So you’re mad at her. In uncertain times, you take certainty where you can find it. These issues of priority and supply should have been hashed out by government officials and presented to the public with clarity and urgency, not hashed out in your group text, among hundreds of other equally frustrated and resentful group texts.

The Sophist personally is waiting for a shot. The Sophist wants healthcare workers immunized first, and people over 70, and grocery workers, and meatpackers—and also K-12 teachers, especially since the country is demanding they get back to work indoors with the country’s children, so all the parents can get sent back to work too. You’re in an impossible situation, and your friend’s blithe grabbing of her own possibility is naturally infuriating.

Before you give her hell for it, though, you need to get two points clear in your mind: can you concisely express, in a text message, the difference between the OK thing you did and the bad thing she did? And are you sure the other members of the chat, with their own resentments or guilty consciences, will score it the same way you did? Shame, like the coronavirus, can be a severe outbreak in a confined space.

When in doubt, wash your hands,
The Sophist

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