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There’s a Line for Vaccines, Don’t Cut It

By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Charlotte R. Moses, Crimson Opinion Writer
Charlotte R. Moses ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

I used to think that I was good at standing in lines — I waited my turn, moved in step with the person ahead of me, and knew exactly the right smile to flash at anyone I bumped with my backpack.

Early lockdown rendered such day-to-day skills useless. I fell out of practice. Now, I have to pause, breathe, and prepare myself for the mega-lines outside groceries and pharmacies. When crowds were forbidden in a city where crowds are the norm, lines grew long; line-waiters grew impatient and, somehow, I got lonelier. The mandated six feet of distance obstructed any connections I had once found with row mates and backpack targets. Bored, I tried and failed to make up for those losses with eavesdropping (and I wasn’t the only one).

When the first non-trial participant received a Covid-19 vaccine dose in New York, Americans in every state joined what I hope will be our final pandemic line: the line for vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has provided federal, state, and local authorities with guidance on structuring that line. According to these rules, programs should prioritize doses to ensure the most equitable and effective vaccination campaign.

I know where I fit into those ACIP recommendations. In fact, I know the spots of my parents, grandparents, and friends as well. I think we’ve all made our own guesses on when exactly our loved ones could be vaccinated. When the strain and routine of Covid-life threaten to crush me, I recite my imagined lineup as a kind of poem: January for Granny; April for Dad; August for me.

All three of us, even myself way down there at the end, will be among the first recipients in the longer global line. People around the world await these vaccines; there are front line and essential workers in every country who, unlike me, cannot limit their exposure. Now that my world feels so reduced to familial worries, and the end of the line inches towards us far slower than I would like, I mind that privilege. I sit grateful for the speed at which the vaccine line was fashioned for us, and I wait.

Some will not. Leading industries can lobby state health departments to prioritize their employees among “essential workers.” The rich, famous, and well-connected can pressure private healthcare services for vaccine appointments far before those slots become publicly available. Merchants, physicians, and pharmaceutical chains can divert vials from their intended locations. Privileged Americans will always find ways to jump a line.

In the last year of elementary school I waited in a very different line (this was way back when my skill at standing in packed queues was still useful). I was class leader and first in the lunch line behind these much older girls. I remember the moment that the stairwell door opened, and another gaggle of older girls, friends of the ones originally there, cut everyone in the group I was supposed to lead. No one in my class said anything, but we vowed later never to do the same until, well, we got older, and did.

Everyone has their own version of that story; it’s a coming-of-age classic. Once I became a middle schooler myself and my elementary school sister complained about cutting and spot-saving in the lunch line, I would tell her (with all the wisdom three years can bring) that I had quietly waited in line, and so now I could cut. She would have to do the same. And until then, shut up about it!

We cannot shut up now. The pandemic has taken an incalculable toll on our country and will leave incomprehensible suffering in its wake. I have numbed myself to the costs we can quantify — in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — and that apathy terrifies me. Behind those statistics are people who should be standing, shoulder to shoulder, in line with us.

It is for those we have lost and might lose that we must wait our turn in line — and we must do so in good faith, masked, six feet apart, with sanitizer in hand. It is for them too that we must demand a rapid vaccination campaign that protects the vulnerable, at-risk, and general public.

Most Harvard students have months until their assigned vaccination slots, but I predict that many will have a chance to jump the line before then. Cutting may feel like no big deal. After all, we have survived lunch lines — and in doing so, we learned to keep quiet behind some line-cutters and then skip the line ourselves. The consequences of doing either now would be severe. From reinforcing the inequities exposed each day by the devastating and disproportionate loss of life among racial and ethnic minorities; to undermining already cautious faith in the ethical distribution of resources; to imperiling our vaccination strategy and public health.

Every dose administered to a line-cutter means one less available to those who waited their turn. Harvard students, wait yours too.

Charlotte R. Moses ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

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