This past weekend marked my one-year anniversary of telework. As I took stock of a year passed, it seemed fitting to think about the year ahead. 

Like many Americans, I’m not yet eligible for the vaccine — I’m under 30 with no preexisting health conditions, no comorbidities, and I’m not an essential worker. But with the recent news about the ramp-up of vaccine production and the future widespread availability of not one but three (or even four) vaccines, it appears my “return to normal” may be coming sooner than expected. For me, this has been a hard concept to grasp.

I’ve been fortunate throughout the pandemic — I’ve kept my job and successfully transitioned to working full-time online. I also live in a stable household and have not faced the struggles of eviction or caring for dependents while balancing my career. Overall, I consider myself extremely low risk for contracting the virus, which makes it difficult to justify getting vaccinated ahead of higher-risk populations. 

Come this December, two-thirds of the global population will remain unvaccinated. I, like others, have questioned the ethics of vaccinating all Americans, given the vast numbers throughout the world who will face life-or-death scenarios in the coming months.

To get a better understanding of my role and responsibility in accepting the vaccine, I reached out to a family friend and bioethicist. The core of our conversation was centered on my — or anyone’s — individual responsibilities of accepting the vaccine.

At present, there is no mechanism to “pay the vaccine forward” to global populations. While the recently announced American-led global vaccination effort carries significant humanitarian, political and economic benefits, for the time being our country is ahead of the curve in “our return to normal.” This commitment made by our country certainly supports our rights to safety and well-being; however, it is also a profound privilege that many others will not experience this year. Like any other privilege, this too comes with a shared responsibility.

As we contemplated our “return to normal,” we agreed that we should instead strive for a new normal. Throughout the pandemic, we collectively have seen the impacts of privilege and inequality within our communities. Now, as we each define this new normal, there is the potential to do so with a mindfulness toward those who don’t have the same possibilities. 

Whether it involves supporting global access to the vaccine or participating in local initiatives that work toward ensuring access to basic human rights, there is an opportunity to make our sacrifices over the past year worthwhile.

In short, it turns out that the question was not one of whether to accept the vaccine, but of ways to make it count.

Madeline Roth of Shelburne, a cultural heritage researcher

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