April 5, 2021

Confusion? Jealousy? Guilt? The complicated feelings of being vaccinated—when those you love aren't.

Daily Briefing

    Writing for the New York Times, Sarah Maslin Nir explores how the growing number of partially vaccinated households—in which "one partner, spouse, parent, or adult child is vaccinated" and others aren't—are navigating the tension between feelings of celebration and guilt.

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    A growing wave of partially vaccinated households

    According to the Times, the Biden administration has directed states to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults no later than May 1. But even with that directive, at the current pace, with just 16% of Americans vaccinated so far, the entire population may not be vaccinated until August, Maslin Nir writes, and "and that assumes all pledges of supply are met."

    Moreover, even if every adult in the country is vaccinated, young children will likely remain ineligible for some time, the Times reports, as vaccine manufacturers have only just initiated vaccine trials for people under the age of 16.

    As a result of this growing divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, Maslin Nir writes, families who might have otherwise celebrated the arrival of vaccines are now dealing with feels of "confusion, jealousy, or guilt." Further, because research has not yet conclusively determined how effectively the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines prevent vaccinated individuals from spreading the coronavirus to others, the Times reports, the newly vaccinated for months have also had to wonder whether any of their newfound freedoms—such as going to a movie or to dinner with friends—would potentially endanger their unvaccinated family members.

    "These are all layers that just weigh heavy on everybody, and can sometimes cause more anxiety and tension and depression," George James, a therapist with the Council for Relationships, said.

    However, James added that the difficulties of the past year may have equipped families to better navigate the complexities of this transition time. "That doesn't mean that families aren't in crisis or overwhelmed or at their breaking point," he said. "But if I was to look at it as a whole, I think there has been more strength and resiliency and ability to say, 'OK, we figured this out, we can figure this next thing out.'"

    New freedoms—and new concerns

    Partially vaccinated households are dealing with these divisions in different ways, Maslin Nir reports.

    For instance, Lolo Saney, a 65-year-old elementary school teacher, said she feels conflicted about having been vaccinated before her mother, an American citizen who has been stuck in Iran, where she was visiting before the pandemic hit. "In that moment that I got the vaccine, instead of, 'I should be so super-happy I survived this nonsense,' instead of all that I felt the biggest guilt of my life," Saney said.

    Conversely, Andre Duncan, who has not been vaccinated, has been struggling with feelings of guilt because his wife, Michelle, has insisted on handling their errands on her own since she was vaccinated earlier this year. "She believes she is protecting me, and it is the right thing to do, and I feel like I don't want her to," he said. "It takes a lot from the relationship."

    But others still view any vaccinations as an overall benefit, the Times reports, even for unvaccinated household members. For example, Ashraya Gupta, a 34-year-old high school teacher, said she was able to take a weekend with other vaccinated friends that was restorative for both her and her unvaccinated partner, who remained at home.

    "I thought, 'Once I get this vaccine I might be able to do more things that will make me feel able to function,'" Gupta said. "Which I think is ultimately good for him and good for our relationship."

    And still others view it as an opportunity "to prove [the vaccines'] safety to friends and family who are skeptical," the Times reports. Gustavo Ajche, for instance, a food delivery worker who was made eligible for the vaccine before his wife, Lorena de Ajche, a nanny, said that as the "only one vaccinated in [his] home," his relatives "see [him] as a trial."

    And while Jason Bass, a 51-year-old, has so far declined to get the vaccine, he said his wife, Denise, a nurse who saw the pandemic unfold at the hospital where she works, has experienced a drastic reduction in stress since she was vaccinated. "She feels much better," he said (Maslin Nir, New York Times, 3/30).

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