Ross McCool examines the harmful beliefs that underpin the relentless questioning of young people getting vaccinated early.
“Why are they getting it before me?”
On yet another scroll to avoid lectures and assigned readings, I’ve encountered strings of comments wherein individuals question why others are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine if they don’t appear to meet the criteria. These frequently appear under news articles on social media reporting on the current distribution of Covid-19 vaccinations. Whilst at first they may only be intended to vent frustration, these remarks rear the ugly head of detrimental and unhealthy beliefs. Not only are comments like these ignorant and selfish, but they also lead one to question whether the lack of socialisation we’ve had this past year has led to a shortage of sympathy and compassion for others.
One of the recurring themes that seem to coincide with comments such as these is a sense of bewilderment over why some younger people might have received a vaccination. We tend to assume that the average young person may be more resistant to the effects of contracting coronavirus, but this is a gross overgeneralisation. Many young people suffer from pre-existing medical conditions that render them more vulnerable, some of which may not be initially perceivable to others unaware of that person’s medical history. This point reminds us of the necessity of discussing our prejudice towards disabilities. We are all familiar with the mantra of “not all disabilities are visible”, but this tends to be neglected when it comes to young people. We caricature young people as vigorous, full of energy, and possessing a general lust for life (as Iggy Pop noted). But this may not be the case for many young people: this vibrant image of youth can quickly deteriorate, especially for those with pneumonic conditions. This is not to say that people in these situations are fragile; rather, as a society, we have an obligation to take additional steps to protect the wellbeing of this group, key to which includes priority vaccination.
With further reference to ageism online, these brash comments illogically presuppose that young people cannot and do not play a key role in fighting Covid-19. Refusing the medical assistance of a young and qualified doctor or nurse based on their age would be absurd. But it is exactly those young doctors and nurses that are amongst other essential medical and supporting staff that have played an invaluable role during the current pandemic. We often believe that with age comes wisdom, but in this case, such a stipulation would be incredibly harmful. We ought not to forget that everyone has their own set of circumstances, ambitions, and right to be treated with respect. Age shouldn’t come into it: accessing a vaccine that you are entitled to is not selfish.
This discourse has also arrived at the toxic conclusion that overweight members of our communities are somehow less deserving of receiving the vaccine. This is fatphobic and wrong: we would revolt if someone were to be denied vaccination because of other arbitrary and often uncontrollable characteristics such as height or hair colour. There are a vast array of reasons someone might be overweight, from a naturally slower metabolism, personal choice, and possible side-effects from medication, all of which are beyond our right to criticise. So frequently do we talk about the importance of respecting the severity and appropriate clinical and social responses of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, but we devalue the gravity and implications of eating disorders, sometimes these are lucky to receive an afterthought. This is an enormous problem regarding how we conceptualise and talk about mental health and one we should remember in discussions around vaccinations.
What is important to consider is that spreading ageist, ableist, and fatphobic views when discussing rolling out vaccine distribution can have significant effects on both individuals and in our communities. Within the wider setting of the community, the impacts of reluctance to receive immunisation could be widespread, the unvaccinated person can help to spread the virus, affecting the health of the area, elongate lockdown procedures, and raise economic harm which can create a vicious cycle, especially to those who find themselves less well off socio-economically.
In the case of the individual, lack of vaccination may lead to avoidable health problems. Even a single dose has been shown to cause a significant drop in hospitalisation and re-infection rates for recipients. That is without mentioning the spectre of “long Covid”, which continues to puzzle experts and those who suffer from it. By questioning people who accept the vaccine, what message is this sending out? That some people are less deserving of vaccination during a pandemic in virtue of who they are, based on characteristics outside of their control. This is the definition of discrimination. It devalues the unique struggles members of these groups have faced during the pandemic, tearing us wider apart in a time where unity is key.
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