Back in late December, when I learned that anyone over 70 was soon going to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, it was via a text that came from NOLA Ready to my cell phone. I immediately began trying to learn more, and after sitting by my computer obsessively refreshing the Louisiana Department of Health website on the day the sites were announced, I was able to get an appointment for my 83-year-old father by noon that day.
I have a car, so it was no problem for me to drive him an hour round-trip to the pharmacy in Chalmette.
By the end of the week, he was vaccinated.
I hit a snag booking his second dose, but after a couple of hours on the phone and the Walgreen’s website and with the assistance of several kind friends, I was able to work that out, too.
As of last week, he’s received both doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Then, in mid-January, I turned to my mother. At 68, she wasn’t eligible in Louisiana. But a friend pointed out that she qualified in three different ways (age and two different health conditions) in neighboring Mississippi. Given that Mississippi had recently said that out-of-state people getting vaccines there wasn’t a problem, I decided to book an appointment for her, too.
Again, it took some time and tech-savvy. Again, it took a lengthy car ride, this time a three-hour round trip.
But she’s now vaccinated with Dose 1.
I had scheduled her second dose in Hattiesburg when two things happened:
- Mississippi reversed course and said non-residents “weren’t welcome” to come get vaccines.
- Louisiana lowered its age to 65, making her eligible here.
I canceled her Mississippi appointment and made one for her here.
The whole thing left me wondering, though, did I do something unethical?
I cannot deny the multiple layers of privilege that allowed me to make this happen for my parents. I have free time, a strong internet connection, a laptop, a cell phone, good friends, a social network, a reliable car, a flexible job with paid time off, money to pay for gas.
My father, who as an educated white male is incredibly privileged in many ways but has absolutely zero idea of how the internet works, was (given his age) extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and also would have been completely unable to navigate the system if left to his own devices. In fact, he did briefly try to navigate the system the best way he knew how: He read in the newspaper that vaccines would be available for seniors (almost a full 24 hours after I got the text telling me the same thing) and then he misunderstood the way they would be doled out to pharmacies, so he called his local neighborhood pharmacy (Castellon’s – love them!). When Castellon’s said they wouldn’t be participating in the program right away, he thanked them … and gave up.
Meanwhile, I’d already figured out the Walgreen’s system and spent the necessary time creating an account for him (using my email) and clicking through everything required to sign him up.
My mother, who is much more tech-literate, hadn’t even considered going to Mississippi. (And now that they’ve made their stance clearer, I don’t think I’d do it again. But I’m glad I did it this time.) Before she’d even had time to consider the ethics of it, I’d booked her appointment and was driving her there.
To soothe whatever lingering guilt I had about getting my parents taken care of while so many struggled with access, I threw myself into connecting people with vaccines. I signed up with NOLA Ready to help when and if I can. I volunteered to help moderate a local vaccine-hunting group. I got appointments for several of my friends’ parents to get the vaccine. But does this make it OK?
I know more needs to be done, and I want to do it. The system isn’t fair. I fully acknowledge that. I still want my parents vaccinated, though, and while I’m not going to jump the line, I’m perfectly willing to use my advantages to help those I love. And once they’re helped, I feel the urge to help others.
The system is broken, but I don’t know how to fix it. What would you do? What do you think? What are the ethics of using the system to your advantage?