Today was the big day - I got my first jab of the Moderna mRNA vaccine.
And while I am grateful to be on the path to “freedom,” I can’t help but think about what this means at a much higher level.
A little over a week ago in a press conference, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Robert Strang reminded people of the need to check their privilege. While people are complaining about not being able to go to the cottage or to the mall just for a browse or to simply go about their Business-As-Usual life, he brought the stark reality to light that not all have this option. He noted the people who have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their loved ones, etc., and how focusing on not being able to do something over concern for others is a sign of the immense privilege we are afforded here. I applauded him in the moment and continue to be in awe of his leadership (and really, his ability to not flip that table sometimes…).
But I’d like to broaden his point a bit more. Yes, I am thankful to have received this first dose (despite a little side effect fun shortly after). Yes, it’s a great feeling knowing that my second dose is only a few months away. Yes, I am relieved that my loved ones and fellow Nova Scotians are taking up the offer to receive them, themselves. But once again, in doing so, we need to check our privilege.
There have been many conversations about the inequities that have surfaced as a result of the pandemic. We tend to only discuss them in the context in relation to where we live, be it our community, province/territory/state, or country. This isn’t new information. But when confronted with how the pandemic has been handled on a global scale, it’s easy to see just how much disparity there is in the whole “we’re all in this together” mantra we heard so much about this time last year.
That I, an average 30-something (white) Canadian without a job of any significant importance within the context of the pandemic, am given the opportunity to receive a vaccine simply because I fit the criteria of living in a specific part of the world and within a permitted age group, while arguably more important people in other parts of the world are not, is a sobering reality. The rich nations of the world bought up vaccine allotments in incredible numbers, leaving other countries, without a plethora of made up currency of global standing, to do the same. And that’s only one of the inequities in this situation.
There’s also the infrastructural requirement to deploy the vaccine, which isn’t realistic for a product that must be kept at a specific temperature at all times. We omit recognizing the privilege of a stable power source. We omit recognizing the ease of access to transportation to get us to our appointments (which in a Nova Scotian context would have been challenging for many if there wasn’t a “free rides” service). We omit recognizing our ability to take time off of work to do so, as well. Just as we have often failed to reconcile the privilege of a social assistance program available to the many who lost their jobs, to ongoing health care, to being able to work from home, and even just to stay at home without needing to access basic necessities on a daily or semi-daily basis.
I do, however, recognize that confronting this privilege is difficult. It’s taxing mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. I recognize that many have been on this journey over the last year or so, beginning with the upswing in popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement. And I recognize we are all tired of dealing with all of the new realities around us.
But I also recognize that we need to be reminded. I need to be reminded. Check. Your. Privilege.
I have been struggling to come to terms with the overwhelming amount of guilt I feel about how my life has been (un)affected by the pandemic. I have thought a great deal about how I booked my appointment without questioning whether or not I could. My employer encourages us to get tested, to get our vaccine, and to work from home, when possible. I wasn’t worried about getting in trouble for needing to miss a bit of my work day. I wasn’t worried about any potential lost wages. I wasn’t worried about how I would get to my appointment. I just booked it and went about my day, like I was checking my social media notifications.
It’s no secret that returning to Canada after living abroad continues to be a challenge for me. I still find it difficult to reconcile the experiences I had outside of Canada with the ones I’ve had the rest of my life within it. I find it difficult to be patient and sympathetic to people who complain about frivolous little things and am much harder on myself when I notice myself doing something of that sort. I find it difficult to answer the never ending stream of questions about some of the places I’ve lived, that underscore just how much Western education underestimates the beauty and capacity of those same spots. Just as I, now, struggle to reconcile the selfishness of folks who are moderately inconvenienced by how little the last year has actually impacted them, when there are others who are far worse off. Even at this local level I noted above, let along on the broader, global scale.
So why bother getting it, if I feel this strongly? There are still people here that need the protection but are unable to receive it themselves for health reasons, or believe its a government conspiracy. There are still people who are working so hard and are tired from helping to ensure those currently sick recover. And this, just like working from home, foregoing much needed visits with friends, and restricting my time and stops outside of my dwelling are all small steps towards making this a little less challenging for those same individuals. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn't talk about the reality that the speed of this rollout is unfairly at the advantage of the already powerful and privileged, making Covid - the once toted undiscriminating virus - an undeniably discriminatory one, that no one wants to talk about.
Yours in perpetual social justice turmoil,
- the Orange Canadian