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I got vaccinated, but my family thinks I cut the line. Should I have waited?

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to [email protected]


Dear Bintel,

Although I’m not technically entitled to get the Covid vaccine (I’m two years shy of 65), my friends at shul have strongly been encouraging me and other people over 40 to go get one anyway in order to increase the chances of creating herd immunity. They helped me find a website that asks the legally required questions and then allows me to register at a site in my area.

When I got to the site, almost no other people were there, aside from the staff and volunteers, probably because it was snowing. The volunteers asked for my ID but didn’t ask for proof of eligibility. Maybe they were happy to finally see someone coming through their doors.

But when I shared the news that I’d been vaccinated via email with my family, some of them criticized me for having gotten a vaccine that should have gone to those who actually fit the criteria, as in frontline health care workers and those over 65. One of them said: “Well, I’m going to wait until they officially allow people over 55 to get the vaccine,” implying that I “stole” the vaccine from someone who is more vulnerable. Instead of complimenting me on helping slow down the spread of the virus, he was trying to prove to me that he was acting more ethically.

Signed,
Thief??

I’m not sure where you are based, dear letter writer, but the vaccine rollout in many areas has been less than ideal. And, to be fair, it is an incredibly complicated project full of multiple moving parts. The general wisdom has been that anyone who can get a vaccine should do so, because there is no guarantee that it will go to someone else instead of going to waste. And the ultimate goal is that the whole population is immunized, so getting the vaccine helps the community.

Your letter is sosufficiently circumspect, however, that I’m not sure if you approached this process completely above board. Who are these friends at shul, and what answers did they tell you to give to these legally required questions? What would you have said to the volunteers if they had asked for proof of eligibility?

There is a wide line between ‘gaming the system’ and ‘don’t let any vaccine go to waste’ but I’ll assume you are firmly on the right side of it. At almost 65, you can hardly be accused of ‘stealing’ a vaccine from one of your elders. In that vein, your relatives were rude in their responses. If they were genuinely concerned about your behavior, they could have reached out privately to ask about your process, instead of sharing their holier-than-thou reactions with the whole family.

But if you have any lingering guilt, why not pay it forward? It sounds like you benefited from the insider knowledge of your shul community. As we know, many older people who are eligible are struggling to register with the system. Is there anyone in your synagogue who might not yet be vaccinated who could use a helping hand?

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to [email protected]

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