Saturday, June 22, 2024

Is going home to get a vaccine ‘jumping the line’?

Since writing my article last week about the slow-moving pace of the vaccine roll-out in Mexico and the travesty of ignoring or otherwise swatting away private healthcare workers, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of traveling home to my country to get the jab myself, as it seems that it could be a while if I decide to wait it out here.

Not all of the responsibility for the slow rate down here is carried by Mexico. The powers that be aren’t all-powerful gods, and they can’t simply make vaccines appear out of nowhere if shipments are delayed, canceled or otherwise unexpectedly unavailable or late.

Add to that the country’s fame for not being even close to the most efficient when it comes to distributing public goods and services, and it’s hard to have much faith that we’ll be on the other end of this pandemic anytime soon around here.

All that said, there’s some good news. In my state of Veracruz (as well as in Chiapas, Nayarit, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila; other groups of states are set to follow shortly), for example, it was announced that all teachers and school personnel of any sort — public and private — will be receiving their first shots this week. All of them. This week.

It sounds too good to be true, but I pray that it’s not. In my particular university town, teachers and other school workers account for a sizable portion of the population. This means that many of those who are younger and wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for the vaccine until what will very likely be next year will get their shots. Granted, they’ll be inoculated with the single-dose Chinese Cansino vaccine, which comes in at only a 65.7% effectiveness, but hey: that’s better than the 0% those of us without the vaccine are looking at.

Well done, Mexico. Credit where credit is due. I’m still upset about private medical workers, but I’m not a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” kind of girl. I’ll take incremental, maddeningly frustrating, halting change and improvement over no improvement at all.

I do have a few questions: will it only be for those actively employed? What if they were working at one of the many private schools that has since shut their doors, as unable to survive as the other million-plus businesses during what has now been a one-year-plus-long closing?

Furthermore, does the government have a list of everyone who works in a private school and is therefore eligible? I ask because they didn’t have a list of private healthcare workers, which as Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum explained, was the reason that so many private health personnel were left out (this in spite of AMLO’s doubling-down on his insistence that, no, really, they should “wait their turn”).

Further investigation (from me) has revealed that the SEP will be the ones to determine those who are currently in the system. Boy, do I hope they’ve got more updated records of their people than the Ministry of Health does.

Despite all this, I refuse to fall victim to total cynicism. I am totally willing to concede (and do hope) that we may all be pleasantly surprised. And for now, I’m cautiously optimistic: all of the personnel at my daughter’s private school will be receiving their vaccines this week. That’s a lot of under-40 people, after all! Great!

But back to my own decision. Like many well-off Mexicans have been doing, I want to go to the United States (of which, to be fair, I am a tax-paying citizen) in order to get vaccinated sooner rather than later. This is a unique privilege that I have and, consequently, the root of some very real existential guilt. As much as I try to convince myself that it’s not something I should feel guilty about at all, here we are.

From what I can observe, most people who are well-off do not waste their time feeling guilty about taking advantage of the many privileges they have because they don’t see themselves as responsible for the absence of privilege in others. I don’t either — at least not directly — but I do recognize my place in a system that benefits some and hurts others, and that’s the part that’s so hard for me to ignore.

The truth is that after all these years, I am still at a stage where I feel like a bit of a fraud. I’ve always felt like an imposter on the privileged “team,” and it feels as if I’m being disloyal by arriving in Mexico and suddenly finding myself on the side that always wins when I know so deeply what it feels like to lose.

It seems easy for most, at least from what I can tell, to shrug their shoulders and see only the positive side: they’ll be vaccinated, and by virtue of that, they’ll help in the collective effort to have as many people vaccinated in their communities as possible, period. It’s an attitude I’m trying hard to cultivate.

Logically, they’re right. Me denying myself just on principle is stupid. It’s not going to help anyone else — and actually might hurt them if I were to later contract and then pass on the coronavirus.

But I’m not going to pretend that it’s a totally selfless move. My impending trip both squarely places a tick on one side of the inequality scale and adds one more vaccinated person to the community, which helps us collectively.

Do I need it much more than others? No, I do not. I’m healthy, young-ish and do not need (but very much want) to go out much.

Even before the pandemic hit, I had no office to go to, no school or clinic or store. It’s been hard for me the way it has for everyone, but it has by no means been disastrous in the way that it has been for so many others.

What right do I have when others do not? I both do and don’t feel good about it. Seriously, y’all…at my most existentially angsty, I’m basically Chidi from The Good Place.

In the end, like many of my fellow well-off hosts, I will very likely go to the U.S. for a vaccine as I try my best to quiet the childish and anxious insistence that my doing so is unfair.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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