South Park is Right; the Vaccination Hunger Games Are Exhausting

April 7, 2021

minute READ 

And now we wait.

Until it’s your turn. It’s just that you might lose your spot in the queue as categories get shuffled around. Deal with it.

And now we wait.

Except you can’t just wait. Make sure you snag an appointment if you can. (You probably [maybe?] can’t.) Deal with it.

And now we wait.

While continuing to social distance and avoid people. Unless you’re already fully vaccinated in which case you might be flaunting your good fortune and doing inconceivable things such as *gasp* dining indoors. Or just trying to navigate your crippling post-lockdown anxiety. Deal with it.

And now we wait.

Until a critical threshold of the people in your country or — let’s be real, we’re talking about a pandemic — on this planet are vaccinated. Because none of us is free until all of us are free. Deal with it.

There’s not much we can do right now except dealing with “it.” “It” is the rollout of the vaccine.

Why this so hard: you’re not imagining things

What makes this vaccination phase so hard is that it brings up many questions of fairness, belonging, and perceived worth … as well as anxiety over the distribution of scarce resources that can make the difference between life and death.

In rich countries, we’re no longer used to the scarcity of essential goods. Widespread famine is a thing of the past. These days, new iPhones are one of the few scarce resources people scramble to get and they’re by no means essential. Which means that we’re woefully unprepared for this.

In their vaccination special, South Park creators did an excellent job of capturing the general sentiment in the US population by showing Walgreens as the hottest place in town where you need to be on the list to get in. Different groups (such as teachers) ask if they’re not important enough to get vaccinated. While people in the queue in front of Walgreen pull increasingly ridiculous stunts to try and get in, those already vaccinated are equally desperate to enjoy their newfound freedom, flaunting it in the face of those not yet vaccinated.

While this is an overly dramatized example, it has some basis in reality. If you’re not yet eligible to get the vaccination, you might have felt envious when hearing about the socialite plans of someone who has. If you only received your first jab while those around you are already fully vaccinated, you might feel excluded when your vaccinated friends are meeting without you.

The situation is rough, whichever way you look at it:

  • If you’re in a country with a high vaccination rate, some of your friends and family might already have gotten their jab, leaving you feeling left behind.
  • Or maybe you live in a country with a really low vaccination rate where none of your friends and family have gotten their jab, leaving you worried if any of you will ever get it.
  • Or perhaps you’ve gotten yours but you’re still anxiously waiting for your friends and family to catch up so you can finally exhale in relief.

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How luck and privilege impacts who gets the vaccine

Despite efforts to handle this process as fairly as possible, in reality luck plays is a huge factor in who gets the vaccine when. And while luck almost always plays a role in life, it’s seldomly as in our face as it is right now:

If you’re lowest on the priority list but are buddies with someone who’s handing out vaccines and some vaccines are left over at the end of the day, you might get your shot long before your grandmother does. If there was a mix-up with your appointment and you got sent home without your jab, you might have to start the whole process all over again. If you have a health condition, you might already be able to get your shot in one part of your country but not in another.

However, there’s another factor that also has a massive impact on who gets the vaccine when — privilege. People who can afford to spend more time looking for appointments (or get other people to help them with the search) are more likely to get them earlier. Obviously, this isn’t fair. Getting an appointment as soon as possible shouldn’t depend on whether a senior person has three tech-savvy grandchildren happy to help her out.

And that’s not even mentioning other forms of privilege that are at play which include class, race, and nationality. For instance, in the US, there are highly concerning racial disparities in vaccinations; including Hispanic and Black Americans getting vaccinated at half the rate of white people. 

Globally, the situation is even worse. For many people worldwide, it is virtually impossible to get a vaccine anytime soon. As Cai Nebe put it: “It seems the West has treated vaccination as a right for itself and a privilege for the rest.”

Inequality is terrible—even for those of us (such as people in rich countries) who are benefiting from it. For instance, research found that another type of inequality — income inequality — makes everyone less happy with their lives, including those who are relatively well-off. Research also suggests that countries with higher inequality have lower levels of trust which leads to higher homicide rates and lower health.

It stands to reason that this new vaccine-related inequality we are facing also has negative impacts on everyone’s well-being. Research suggests that there’s a “ natural human disposition” to treat others fairly. Perhaps that’s why many people feel uncomfortable when they receive unfair privileges. For instance, many people — including those who were eligible — have reported feeling guilty that they got vaccinated before others who need it more. In other words, they “paid” for their early vaccination by feeling terrible.

Vaccination inequality also threatens all of us in other ways. In a survey of 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries,

“two-thirds thought that we had a year or less before the virus mutates to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective and new or modified vaccines are required. […] The overwhelming majority — 88 per cent — said that persistent low vaccine coverage in many countries would make it more likely for vaccine resistant mutations to appear.”

All of this is exhausting. Utterly exhausting.

And it’s happening to people who are worn down from dealing with a pandemic for a year (that everyone agrees felt more like a decade).

How can we deal with this?

Double down on kindness — towards yourself and others

In this phase of uncertainty and continued exhaustion, kindness is one of the most important qualities. If you can, be kind to yourself and others. Let's try to be each other's light in a world gone mad. I know that that’s much easier said than done. But just do what you can and trust that that’s enough. 


If you find it hard to do that, try to keep in mind that you (and everyone around you) are dealing with a rough situation. Everyone is trying to do the best in the midst of it. That best might not be the best it could be under more ideal circumstances.

But this is what we got.

People are worn out and tired. If this were a marathon we’d be braving— on our feet or in a wheelchair — the finish line would be uncertain. We’d be panting and swearing right now, wondering when this will finally be over. And none of the people around you could give you a definite answer of how much longer you would need to endure.

The difference between that metaphor and a pandemic is that people can choose whether to participate in a marathon or not. They can prepare for it. And they don’t fear losing their own lives or people they care about while going through it. In contrast, all of us were cast into a high-stakes ultra-endurance test that could end in death without any preparation and choice.

If you or someone else is losing it, try to keep this in mind. Every human is currently participating — against their will, without adequate preparation, and isolated from others who could try to provide some consolation — in a potentially lethal ultra-endurance event that’s stressing their body, mind, emotions, relationships, and soul and that doesn’t have a clear end date.

This is really, really hard.

And given just how hard it is, you’re probably handling it much, much better than you give yourself credit for. Perhaps it is time to give yourself that acknowledgment. As the late Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl put it: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”

You are handling this well — and this is what handling a pandemic well looks like. It’s not pretty but it will get us all to the finish line. Eventually.

In the meantime, don’t give up hope. 

Legend has it that a powerful king once assembled many wise men, asking for a phrase that would be true in all times and situations.

They handed him a ring with the inscription: “This, too, shall pass.”

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About the author

Bere is the founder of Leader for Good. She's a former lawyer and academic who moved from Germany to the United States where she started her own business. Today, Bere loves helping her coaching clients and students connect with their passion and purpose. You can find out more about her coaching business at www.workyoulovecoach.com.

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