Covid-19: When vaccine envy and vaccine guilt strike


In the latest twist in the Covid-19 pandemic, the rollout of vaccinations leaves room for jealousy as some awaiting their shots remain unprotected, while others feel guilty about their privilege of getting vaccinated early. — dpa

The pandemic has brought out a range of the uglier human emotions in us – boredom, rage, sloth, etc.

But the flood of images posted on social media with people showing off their bandaged arms or vaccine cards has brought a new feeling to the fore: jealousy.

Vaccine envy isn’t so much a classic feeling of jealousy, explains Dr Isabella Heuser, director of psychiatry and psychotherapy at Berlin’s Charite hospital in Germany.

It’s more of a feeling of being set back.

“Behind it is the fear that you will fall short and become infected with Covid-19,” she says.

This fear only grows in the face of rationed vaccine doses and new virus mutations.

Envy is completely understandable in this situation and should not be taboo, says psychoanalyst Eckehard Pioch.

“I desperately need something and don’t have it. But I see someone else who already has it.

“Then this feeling of envy – a mix of fear, anger and sadness – arises,” said the author of a book on jealousy during a radio broadcast.

The situation quickly becomes highly emotional when there’s a perceived shortage of something as vital as vaccines, and the rules regarding who gets them first don’t seem to make sense in some cases.

“It’s a sense of mistrust as to whether everyone who’s been vaccinated is entitled to their immunisation,” says Dr Heuser.

She herself witnessed two people whose age and health did not make them eligible for a jab at the time, receive a vaccine certificate from their doctor.

“I find that morally reprehensible, including the doctor,” she says.

“The two had triumphantly bragged about it too. That makes it even more disgusting.”

Along with vaccine envy, there’s also vaccine shame – a fear of talking about receiving the jab by people who have already had one.

Dr Heuser says that while you don’t have to tell anyone about it, if you have rightfully received a jab and want to talk about it, then it’s okay to do so without going into details about why you were higher priority.

In some cases, however, sharing the details helps relieve the pressure, as some people might think you unfairly cut the queue.

And especially as some places are considering allowing the vaccinated more freedom, the emotional stakes of when you are allowed to get a jab will grow more intense.

She believes it’s fine when a country decides on a priority list, no matter how the groups are defined, but it has to stick with that decision and all its consequences, including the feelings of disappointment in the parts of the population that have to wait.

Pioch, however, doesn’t believe people are helpless in the face of their emotions.

It’s good to react constructively to feelings of jealousy, he says.

That begins with admitting that you’re having such feelings.

When waiting for a vaccination, it can be comforting to be aware that there is a priority list that’s based on order of need, as it’s deeply humane to take care of the weak first, he adds. – dpa

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