I’ve been thinking, praying, and processing some pandemic recovery stuff lately. And I feel like I had an epiphany this morning while walking in the woods.
I started by praying for a nurse who’s recently been hospitalized for COVID-19. She has two little kids, and she’s already missed more than a week of work. She had to get a lung drained of fluid already. Now she’s receiving anti-viral treatments. So it’s pretty serious (but hopefully not life-threatening). Apparently, two other nurses from the same department have also recently tested positive for COVID-19. They’re also struggling to varying degrees, but fortunately not hospitalized.
It all got me wondering. All of these people are medical professionals. They’ve had access to the COVID-19 vaccines for months. And they’re still getting sick. I don’t know if it’s because they’re breakthrough cases. Or maybe because they liked their chances against the virus better than their chances against the vaccines. I started doing some internet research on my smartphone. And my hunch was confirmed that the situation at this local hospital is not unique. A very helpful February article from the New Yorker confirmed that many health care workers are hesitant about the vaccines. Not Medical Doctors (MDs). Approximately ninety percent of them are in favor of the vaccines and are (or plan to be) vaccinated themselves. But other health care workers — like Registered Nurses (RNs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) — and are far more reluctant. About 50/50, in fact, regarding the vaccines.
The article reminded me of similar statistics reported by the National Association of Evangelicals. Apparently 97% of pastors are in favor of the COVID-19 vaccines. But only something like 60% of parishioners. Why would this be?!?
Looking through the Lens of Injustice
I thought of the people I know who are hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines. I thought about the way that the New Yorker article noted how a large percentage of CNAs are young; over a third are Black; and ninety percent are women. It also said that hesitancy is more common among Republicans, rural residents, and people of color.
I recently heard a podcast in which a scientist advocated for art and music as avenues to assist science by helping people’s brains to look for patterns. And as I thought through the people who tend towards vaccine hesitancy, a pattern emerged. A pattern of injustice, oppression, and marginalization.
I’d previously been inclined to feel angry about people who were choosing not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. I suspected they were being stubborn or self-centered. Maybe unsuspecting political pawns. I just wanted them all to get the vaccine so there wouldn’t be such a burden on our health care system… so the economy could fully recover… so older people wouldn’t have to suffer and die… so life could get back to normal for all of us.
But looking at the situation through the lens of injustice, I felt far greater compassion. Much less anger. And even some level of understanding. I thought about those nurses and nursing assistants generally disadvantaged because of their age, their gender, their race. Their disadvantage doubled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Affluent college fraternity brothers insisted on enjoying their Spring Break trips to Florida and passed the virus around without consideration for others. Meanwhile, the RNs and CNAs cleaned up their messes. When these health care workers got sick or died on the front lines of the pandemic, their families were further disadvantaged. Their insurance companies wiggled out of financial responsibility whenever they could. (In many cases, insurance coverage for part-time health care workers was so poor to begin with that they didn’t even have to do much wiggling).
When Getting Back to “Normal” is Problematic
Nurses and Aides are often pegged as underlings to the Physicians who can come across as having something of a “god complex.” So perhaps hesitation is a survival mechanism! They’ve been victims of injustice for so long: the working class… people of color… women… the young… the “yokels” at the butt of so many yuppies’ jokes. It makes sense that they’re not too concerned about their vaccine hesitancy gumming up the works a bit. They’re not about to do any favors for “The Economy” or “The Health Care System” after they way they’ve been treated by these higher powers in our society.
Their bodies are one of the few realms in which they can exhibit autonomy. So it somehow makes more sense to me, now, why they might hesitate.
I need to check my privilege. Again and again. Getting back to “normal” works out pretty well for me. But that’s not the case for everybody. And when all of this came together in my mind and in my heart today, I experienced peace. Something like scales fell from my eyes. I was able to have charitable thoughts towards those who are reluctant to get the vaccine. I shifted from a posture of anger and impatience to a posture of repentance for my own pride and my (subconscious) complicity in the systems that have caused others to view the rest of the world in the way they do.
I’m still glad that I got the vaccine. I hope that others will come around to the idea of being vaccinated — for their own benefit and for the benefit of others. At the same time, I’m very thankful for this fresh wave of understanding that allows me to approach others with greater kindness, gentleness, and empathy.