Vaccine Envy Is Real. Here's How To Deal With It In A Healthy Way.

We're a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Feeling jealous that others are getting the shot and posting about it on social media is entirely normal.
Vaccine envy is a natural response to seeing others receiving an opportunity for greater safety and wanting the same opportunity for yourself.
damircudic via Getty Images
Vaccine envy is a natural response to seeing others receiving an opportunity for greater safety and wanting the same opportunity for yourself.

One year into the COVID-19 crisis, securing a vaccine appointment feels like the equivalent of finding a Willy Wonka golden ticket: We all want it, we all think we deserve it, and for many of us, we feel a tinge of jealousy when someone else gets one.

The latter sentiment is increasingly common now that more people are eligible to get the vaccine. While early vaccine efforts focused on health care workers, essential workers and older people, many states have expanded their coronavirus vaccine eligibility list to include those who have high-risk conditions, including asthma and high blood pressure, as well those who qualify as overweight based on body mass index.

It’s impossible not to wonder: When will it be my turn? If I keep re-inputting my info in the New York Times COVID-19 vaccine spot-in-line calculator, will a more reassuring date appear? Why should I have to wait when all these young people are finding loopholes to skip the line? Could people on Instagram maybe relax with the “vaccinated!” selfies?

Some of us are processing our envy better than others. You may be a tad jealous of the vaccinated, but at least you haven’t said you “deserve some preferential treatment” in the vaccine line because you pay high taxes, like former NBA player Charles Barkley recently did. Or tweeted that you were “annoyed [that] obese people of all ages” are getting COVID-19 vaccines before all essential workers, like a now-suspended news anchor for the Fox 5 station in Washington, D.C., did late last month. Yikes.

“We know our turn is coming, but that doesn’t mean we like waiting for it. We see images posted on Instagram of people getting the shot, and that only makes us want it more.”

- Jessi Gold, an assistant professor and psychiatrist

Clearly, COVID-19 vaccine envy is real. (And as the tweet above suggests, it’s far too often coupled with fatphobia). After months of waiting for the vaccines to be developed, tested and approved, everyone is impatient for their turn. We’ve been good, we’ve stayed home, and now we’re eager for our reward: a vaccine card.

“As humans and Americans, we also innately desire things other people have,” said Jessi Gold, an assistant professor and psychiatrist who primarily sees health care professionals and college students at Washington University in St. Louis.

To be just a little bit glib about it, this season’s hot item isn’t a Birkin bag or Apple’s latest toy, it’s Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, said Gold.

“The vaccine is limited in availability, and anything limited is psychologically appealing to us ― and culturally as well ― and that innately will make us jealous and want it,” the psychiatrist said.

“We know our turn is coming, but that doesn’t mean we like waiting for it,” Gold explained. “We see images posted on Instagram of people getting the shot, and that only makes us want it more.”

So take heart: Your vaccine envy is natural and very human. But holding on to such negative emotions isn’t helpful as we start to turn a corner with COVID-19. We asked Gold and other therapists for their advice on how to manage vaccine envy before it gets the best of you.

Acknowledge your feelings and don’t blame or beat yourself up for them.

At this point, we’ve all hit a pandemic wall (or two or three or four). If you’re feeling impatient for the vaccine, it’s for good reason: Ultimately, you want to protect yourself and resume some semblance of normal (or normal-ish) life as soon as possible.

Intellectually, you understand that others who are receiving the vaccine before you are at higher risk for infection and thus need it more. You may feel thrilled for them but that doesn’t cancel out your desire to return to normal life, said Abigail Makepeace, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California. You want to feel protected, too.

“For individuals who don’t know when they will receive their vaccination, the waiting and continuation of social isolation and other COVID-related precautions can be excruciating,” she told HuffPost. “Vaccination envy isn’t malicious, it’s very human. It is a natural response to seeing others receiving an opportunity for greater safety and wanting the same opportunity for yourself.”

Experts think herd immunity will occur when 70% of the population is immune to the coronavirus.
Getty Images
Experts think herd immunity will occur when 70% of the population is immune to the coronavirus.

Makepeace likens the experience to running a marathon when others have finished but you’re unable to view or draw close to the finish line. You know you’ll get there eventually, but at the moment, you’d give anything to be done and wrapped up in one of those foil blankets just like them.

And of course, your negative feelings might be doubled if people you know who’ve been vaccinated now seem blasé about the pandemic. Say, for instance, a young millennial or Gen Z-er who nabbed a “dumpster dose” of the vaccine and now vacations and parties like it’s 2019 and posts about it on social media. That’s bound to create some envy and resentment, even for the most patient among us.

“As more and more people are vaccinated, this is going to be part of our cultural and medical adjustment process,” Makepeace said. “People may have varied opinions and feelings as to what is and is not risky behavior after vaccination.”

Remind yourself that every vaccinated person gets us one step closer to the end of this nightmare.

Instead of focusing on when you’ll get your vaccine, try to take a more holistic view of the vaccine rollout: The more people who are vaccinated, the closer we are to herd immunity and resuming something like normal life. (Experts think herd immunity will occur when 70% of the population is immune — either through a vaccine, natural infection or preexisting immunity.)

As James Hamblin, a lecturer at Yale School of Public Health, wrote in the Atlantic recently, “The turning point does not arrive for individuals, one by one, as soon as they’ve been vaccinated; it comes for all of us at once, when a population becomes immune.”

Progress on the vaccine rollout may be slow-going, but it is happening: President Joe Biden recently said he expects the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply for all adults by the end of May.

Relish in what that means for you and your loved ones, Gold said.

“Remind yourself that you have family and friends who are more susceptible to dying who you want to be safe, so that when you visit them and you are vaccinated, you won’t be able to pass the virus on to them,” she said. “People are getting vaccinated, and the rates are decreasing, and we’re finally getting there.”

Feel lucky that you have the luxury of waiting.

By and large, the people who are receiving the vaccine now are high-risk patients or people who work in jobs that often expose them to the coronavirus. If you have the luxury of working from home and staying inside, you’re one of the lucky ones. You can afford to sit back and wait a little longer than others.

“The people getting it now are at higher risk,” Makepeace said. “This is something that cannot be overstated. When you imagine getting the vaccine before them, contemplate if you would also be willing to exchange with them the factors that place them in a higher risk category.”

Don’t hate on the vaccine selfies too much; they’re actually great for public health and promoting the vaccine.

While people tend to have a lot of feelings about vaccine selfies ― is it bragging? Is it the new self-congratulatory “I voted” sticker selfie? Do they highlight inequities, since people with better access to health care have an easier time getting vaccinated? ― many public health experts think they’re ultimately a good thing.

Photos of people smiling and getting the shot could normalize the process and encourage the vaccine-wary to make an appointment. (At this point, 1 in 3 Americans said they definitely would not or probably would not get a coronavirus vaccine, according to a recent AP/NORC poll.)

When you get annoyed at seeing your umpteenth vaccine selfie or debate posting one yourself, think about that. (You should probably stay clear of posting your vaccination card, though; experts say doing so make you vulnerable to identity theft or scams.)

Focus on what’s behind your jealousy.

There’s a trick to dealing with jealousy: When it starts to creep up, we should endeavor to understand what the emotion is trying to communicate to us and accept it without being overwhelmed by it, said Zainab Delawalla, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta.

“The jealousy one might feel at learning that a neighbor, who seems relatively young and healthy, has been vaccinated already, may be trying to communicate just how anxious and ready you are to receive the vaccine yourself,” Delawalla said. “Hold on to that kernel of truth and let it motivate you to stay vigilant and sign up as soon as you are eligible.”

Let go of wanting to gauge whether or not it was “fair” that your neighbor got it, Delawalla said. “Don’t become burdened by your difficult emotions.” (Also, don’t pry and ask how they were able to get it; health issues are deeply private and you’re not entitled to know.)

The bottom line is, be gentle with yourself as you process this stage of the pandemic. Jealousy is often viewed as a negative emotion ― something that reflects a lack of generosity ― but that’s not so, Makepeace said. It’s just a secondary emotion that’s usually triggered in response to a primary emotion, such as anger or fear.

“Instead of saying you are ‘jealous that a friend was vaccinated,’ understand that primarily, you might be feeling this way because you are feeling fearful, and therefore eager to be vaccinated,” she said. “That’s an entirely normal feeling.”

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