Editor’s Note: Arick Wierson writes frequently for CNN Opinion. He is a six-time Emmy Award-winning television producer and a former senior media adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and currently advises political and corporate clients on communications strategies in the United States, Africa, and Latin America. You can follow him on Twitter @ArickWierson. The views expressed in this commentary belong solely to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
I am a 49-year-old man in fairly good shape (although I could always stand to lose a few pounds here and there.) My wife is 37, and in far better shape. Either way, according to federal and state guidelines, we are low risk for suffering complications stemming from Covid-19 and we would likely not have been vaccinated for several months based on our age and health profile; nonetheless, last week we were both able to get our shots by showing up at a vaccination center unannounced.
There have been reports of areas around the country not allowing unused vaccines to be given to groups that don’t match its state’s vaccination eligibility requirements, causing leftover doses to be tossed out. We had heard that there was a particular chain of pharmacies that was administering vaccinations for seniors, first responders and others who qualified that was also allowing walk-ins to take advantage of the spots left by no-shows and unfilled appointments – so no vaccines would go to waste. Experts have agreed that if there is a choice between throwing away an unused dose and giving it to someone who is not yet eligible, then it’s better to do the latter.
With no appointment, we rolled the dice and drove out to a rural pharmacy almost an hour from our home near Minneapolis, hanging around until the end of the day to see if there would be any unused doses. And as luck would have it, there were three no-shows, and my wife and I were able to get two of those last three unclaimed shots, which would’ve expired and had to be tossed. Even better, we both received the recently approved Johnson & Johnson, “one-and-done” Janssen vaccination. The trip out to the rural pharmacy soaked up the better part of an afternoon, but we were done. Whew.
What I didn’t anticipate from that afternoon trek into the countryside was how much that one little dose of vaccine would free me from the psychological confinement I had felt ever since the pandemic disrupted daily life. It made me realize that even “younger-ish” Americans like myself and my wife have been carrying around a big mental burden. The quick shot of vaccine enabled me to shed, almost immediately, the fear and apprehension that I had been living with during this year of lockdowns, social distancing, and mask wearing.
With that one tiny jab in my left shoulder, I was almost immediately overcome with a sensation that was as foreign to me as it was familiar – one that has been an integral part of my personality my entire life but that had somehow managed to dissipate if not entirely disappear over the course of the past year: My sense of self-confidence and my ability to confront the world around me without fear.
It made me fully realize the toll that the pandemic had taken on my mental health. No longer did I subconsciously attempt to evaluate the risk profile of fellow shoppers while standing six feet apart in the checkout line at Target – which one of these people might have the coronavirus? No longer was I overcome with the fear that, despite taking all of the recommended precautions, I might inadvertently infect my elderly parents when visiting them at their home. My wife and I suddenly felt it was safe again to go out to eat – of course while still following the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for fully vaccinated people – spend money, and do our small part to get the economy humming again.
Just knowing that we are vaccinated is a game changer; we now have some reasonable measure of defense against this mysterious virus that upended nearly every facet of our lives – and that of the rest of the country – almost exactly one year ago. Despite the talk of mutations and variants and that some vaccines might be more effective than others, I now know that if I am confronted with Covid-19, I have a fighting chance.
When the coronavirus outbreak began, we had no therapeutic treatments, and more importantly, no vaccine in sight. Adding fuel to the fire was the patently obvious sense that our government at the time – specifically former President Donald Trump – was fumbling its response, seemingly in complete denial about the seriousness of the virus, and splitting the country into two over the issue.
Covid-19 will be a permanent part of our society’s psychological landscape. The post-mortem on Covid-19, our government’s response to it and its long-lasting effects on our psyche and our economy will be the source of endless debate and discussion for decades to come. The youngest of my three children, now ages 4 and 7, will likely forever be branded as part of Gen C (the “C” is for Covid), the emerging consensus name for the demographic cohort that follows Gen Z – a lifelong reminder that they grew up and survived the biggest global pandemic since the early 1900s.
For all of us, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z and now Gen C, Covid-19 has changed our world, but the impact of getting that vaccine will go far beyond merely defending us against taking ill; it will garner many of us the fortitude to return to the modicum of normalcy that we have craved for so long.