Op-Ed: The Vaccine Does Not Make You Invincible; Stop Acting Like It Does

By Sarah Nicell || Layout Assistant

Envision this: The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you wake up on a breezy Saturday morning after receiving your second and final dose of the vaccine.

“I’m finally vaccinated!” you exclaim enthusiastically with nothing but a slightly sore arm and the trauma of being damn near isolated for over a year to hold you back from the bustling world of post-pandemic existence. “What am I going to do today? Go to a party? Hang out with my friends—dare I say—maskless? Go to Orlando with all six of my family members?”

Whoa there, my optimistic friend. I think you may have jumped the gun a bit there. As a fellow vaccinated person, I am equally excited to go on this journey of building herd immunity to COVID-19, but let us first acknowledge why we cannot return to normalcy so quickly. Here are some important things to keep in mind after getting vaccinated:

1. Following your completion of the vaccination series, it will take up to two weeks to build up your immunity to COVID-19. If you have only received one dose of the vaccine or if you have only been fully vaccinated for a couple of days, you cannot interact with the world as though you are invincible. By doing so, you are weakening your body’s effort to develop immunity, which defeats the purpose of being vaccinated at all.

2. These new liberties are limited only to circumstances in which you are surrounded by other fully vaccinated people. Approximately 25% of the population is currently vaccinated (around 40% are at least half vaccinated); therefore, it is less likely that you will be in a situation in which every person in the vicinity is fully vaccinated and has been for two weeks than a situation in which every person is not fully vaccinated. By assuming that others have been as fortunate as 25% of the population is a disservice to the ongoing effort to vaccinate all Americans, so if there is even one unvaccinated person in the room, wearing your mask and social distancing is still imperative.

For example, I had the privilege of being vaccinated nearly two months ago, and while it has relieved a great deal of my anxieties surrounding COVID-19, I continue to follow CDC guidelines. Though I had the fortune of being vaccinated early, many of my family members and friends are still waiting, and the least that I can do to keep them safe is avoid medium to large gatherings, wear a mask when I leave the house, and social distance when I am in public.

3. Vaccines do not make you fully immune to COVID-19. Regardless of which you receive, no vaccine will make you indestructible, which means that it is important that you continue to follow guidelines by the CDC until further notice. After all, the first rollout of the vaccine for everyday Americans was in December of 2020, merely five months ago. It is impossible to fully understand the nuances of the vaccine in such a short period of time, and this lack of understanding must be a factor in the level of caution we take following our vaccinations. 

While I think it is important that people appreciate what the vaccine can do for them, pretending that it is a cure to all COVID-related problems is a slap in the face to all those who have died this past year. People from all walks of life are still dying every day as a result of the virus, and even as a vaccinated person, you are not exempt from the consequences of these deaths. Individuals from your community, your city, your state, your nation, and your world are suffering from an agent that the average person does not entirely understand. Take caution so that their deaths do not have to be in vain.

4. Recognize your privilege as a fully vaccinated person. While it is amazing that you have finally received your vaccine after a year of waiting, you are being protected in a way that millions and millions of others around the world are not. According to CNN, because nations like the United States are hoarding enough doses to vaccinate 200% of their populations, many countries in the Global South can vaccinate less than a third of their populations. The act of stockpiling to create herd immunity directly harms the citizens of nations in poverty. Therefore, to behave irresponsibly after receiving the vaccine is to flaunt your affluence. Sure, it’s alright to post your “I’m vaccinated!” sticker on social media but to immediately throw all caution to the wind after sharing is shameful.

I have watched people that I love attend huge sorority parties like no one was ever sick. I have watched them disregard their contact with the virus because they are half-vaccinated, and go about their lives like nothing ever occurred. I have watched them go on extravagant vacations to COVID hotspots like three million people haven’t died. I have watched them simultaneously get vaccinated and pretend that the pandemic never existed, treating masks like an optional accessory rather than something to protect others. I have watched them post their outings on Instagram like it’s trendy to not care about the immunocompromised and the elderly. 

One woman that I graduated with shared a sentiment of “survival of the fittest”, self-identifying as a eugenicist on her social media following a post of her partying like there’s no tomorrow at a greek life function. She noted, “I’m very insensitive when it comes to most things”—‘most things’ defined here as concerns over a pandemic that has killed millions. Social Darwinism, which applies the theory of survival of the fittest to human beings in economic and political spheres, is a denounced concept that should have been left to die in the early 20th Century. Somehow this woman has revitalized this dehumanizing theory to fit into the framework of survival during the pandemic, acting as a scapegoat for her harmful and irresponsible actions.

This behavior is embarrassing, but at its core, it is a portrayal of America’s inability to exhaust its selfishness during a global emergency.

While these activities are more harmful prior to vaccination, they continue to perpetuate a message of complete and utter indifference toward human life. If you are so entitled to receive a vaccine that is in high global demand only to act as though the United States has achieved herd immunity, you do not deserve to be part of the 25% of vaccinated people in the nation.

So, what are you going to do today? My advice: stay safe on that breezy Saturday morning. Maybe go for a walk, watch a movie on Netflix, or microwave some popcorn. Practice the same safety precautions you have been performing for the past year regardless of whether or not you have been vaccinated. A couple more months of mask-wearing and embracing personal space won’t hurt you, but if you pursue carelessness, you may very well hurt someone else.

First-year Sarah Nicell is a Layout Assistant. Her email is snicell@fandm.edu.

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