Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday February 24, 2021
The upside of vaccine envy: If everyone else wants it, I want it, too
Like COVID-19, its grip is tightening and the spread is exponential. Vaccine envy is the latest pandemic phenomenon to spread across borders and deep into our psyches.
Vaccine envy taps into our most basic instincts. If somebody else has something, especially if it has value, I want it, too. And if I don’t have it, why don’t I?
Scarcity just feeds into the feeling. The rarer a commodity, the sharper the envy. If you’re old enough, you may remember the Cabbage Patch Kids fad, back in the early 1980s. A pretty mundane soft doll backed by astute marketing, it took the world by storm just before Christmas, causing huge demand and riots in stores as desperate parents kicked and scratched their way to the front of the queue.
By contrast, COVID vaccines are actually useful, so rarity causes people to go to extremes to get a head start on others.
In the U.S., where anything and everything is turned into a competition, vaccine envy has sparked an unseemly race to get a shot before your neighbour. The chaotic nature of the U.S. health-care system, where nobody is really in charge and vaccines are available in a dizzying array of locales, exaggerates the rush.
People line up in the cold for hours, wake up in the middle of the night to sign in to pharmacy websites, persistently call their doctor or volunteer at a vaccine clinic, in the hope of getting an unused dose at the end of the day. Of course, the wealthy have a huge advantage, willing as they are to pay cash or build a new hospital wing in return for a bit of Pfizer or Moderna.
The one-upmanship is particularly acute in Hollywood, where celebrities will do anything to get vaccinated. One producer told Vulture, “There are no more drug dealers in town. I can get any I want, and it doesn’t even matter, at this point. It’s the vaccine dealer that everybody wants on speed dial.”
The U.S. being a meritocracy, it also gives low-rollers a chance to be entrepreneurial when acting on their vaccine envy. The State of Massachusetts recently came up with the brilliant idea of encouraging the elderly to get to their mass vaccination sites by allowing any relative or caregiver who accompanies somebody over 75 to also get a vaccine. Suddenly, old people, who had been left alone and isolated since the start of the pandemic, were hugely popular.
Websites like Craigslist were soon brimming with invitations to the elderly, according to the New York Times. “I have a great driving record and a very clean Toyota Camry,” said one ad. “I can pay $100 cash, as well. I am a friendly conversationalist and will allow you to choose the music and show me all the pictures of your grandkids!”
Canadians are sure to mumble. At least in the U.S., they’ve got vaccines to fight over. Our supply seems to be sitting in a warehouse in Belgium, or frozen at a snowbound UPS facility in Louisville, Ky., of all places.
Here, vaccine envy has turned into a national psychosis, another reason to beat ourselves up for some fatal national flaw. Why can’t we be like Israel? Or Australia? Or Romania? If only we hadn’t sold Connaught Laboratories in 1989. One dual Canada-U.K. citizen praised the British response, noting that when he got sick with the disease in the spring, he received fabulous treatment from Britain’s National Health Service, which followed up his hospitalization with weekly home deliveries of tinned beans, bags of apples, and lavender soap. (Continued: iPolitics)