Vaccines. The epitome of short-term pain, long-term gain. A scientific achievement and feat of human accomplishment that can be received in a grocery store pharmacy. A quick pinch in the arm gives people more hope than they’ve felt in a year. The vaccine is nothing short of a miracle and likely what will usher us out of the current pandemic. While it seems like campus is abuzz about the vaccine, especially with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s, D-Mich., statement about vaccine availability for all adults aged 16 and older on April 5, I am deeply concerned by a pattern of behavior that has emerged: lying about one’s situation expressly for the purpose of getting a vaccine.
I’ve heard a number of strategies or ways to “game the system” being passed around among students looking to jump in line. Things like claiming a non-visible disability or illness, claiming employment in the childcare or healthcare industries while not working in either field or crossing state lines and faking residency. Driving to Ohio, while claiming to be working in childcare in the state, may seem like a harmless strategy for getting vaccinated quicker when in reality it is wrong, dangerous and immoral.
From a purely ethical standpoint, lying for personal gain is wrong. From a health perspective, taking a vaccine out of the hands of someone within a category that needs it more is detrimental to the long-term public health initiative of vaccination. From a community standpoint, taking a vaccine appointment from someone who is at greater risk and therefore in greater need is shameful.
The tiered system for receiving vaccines was designed in many ways to prioritize the needs of front-line workers, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, areas with less robust hospital systems and healthcare and childcare workers. The plans were designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, especially amongst our most vulnerable populations and those working with them, at the forefront. With demand significantly higher than supply at this point in the pandemic, this tiered system is a necessary facet of vaccine distribution to ensure the best possible public health outcome.
While the tiered system certainly has its flaws in verification, that does not give people permission to take advantage of those that need the system to get vaccinated due to their employment or health situation. Although locations may not check identities, employment records, disability statuses, places of residence or other features that would demonstrate valid reasons for vaccination at this point, that does not grant permission to abuse the system.
This behavior is not to be confused with perfectly legitimate means of obtaining a vaccine early. No-waste lists are a great way to get a vaccine early without stealing an appointment from someone who needs it more. No-waste lists allow hospitals or vaccination clinics to reach out when there are leftover vaccines that would go to waste or expire if they aren’t used.
Volunteering at vaccine clinics is also a noble and encouraged way to get a vaccine earlier. Helping organize or staff a vaccine clinic allows the gears of public health to turn and usually includes the perk of receiving a vaccine in exchange for one’s service. The additional risk of working at a clinic — potentially exposing oneself to many people — is grounds for receiving a vaccination if one is available.
I want to make it clear that I recognize the fear of COVID-19 is incredibly real, almost paralyzing for many of us. Many of us, myself included, have directly lost family members, friends, teachers, classmates or colleagues to the virus or its accompanying medical complications. However, this fear cannot be an excuse for leaving integrity behind.
Preventing further tragedy comes from a public health effort to end this pandemic. Prioritizing those who are most likely to catch or die from COVID-19 is needed to prevent further tragedy. We can’t let selfishness continue to prolong this pandemic or cause further avoidable deaths.
In short, let’s end this pandemic together. Let’s use our empathy and integrity to collectively protect ourselves and our peers. Let’s use our skill of standing in line, something we were taught from a young age, to allow those who need vaccines more to receive them. Or alternatively, sign up for no-waste lists or volunteer at clinics.
Lying, misconstruing the truth or relying on not being asked questions is never the right thing to do. I implore you to wait until you actually qualify to receive a vaccine. Get the vaccine as soon as you should, not necessarily as soon as you can.
Andrew Gerace is a Senior Opinion Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.