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The Official Baldrige Blog

Vaccine Anxiety, Giddiness, and Guilt

COVID-19 vaccine bottle showing a syringe injecting into an illustration of the virus.
Credit: Orpheus FX/Shutterstock

Now that most adults are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even though many people are still unvaccinated, I would like to share the emotions I experienced over the last few months. I am sure many of you experienced similar emotions as you awaited (and received) the vaccine.

Anxiety

The emotions started with anxiety as I pursued an appointment to get the vaccine. The anxiety was heightened by being in the priority group for the "elderly." I never considered myself elderly, until I was repeatedly referred to that way since the onset of the pandemic. And I was "elderly" by almost a decade by COVID definitions.

Where I live, I was eligible to go to any county in the state, as well as a large pharmacy chain that was giving the vaccine in many locations (not including my county, but neighboring counties). Each county had a different sign-up system. Some were register once online and wait to be contacted, some were register by phone or the web in weeks that vaccine was available, and some were first come-first served on any day the vaccine was available. We decided not to wait in many-hour long lines at the first come-first served counties, where people frequently started lining up shortly after midnight. 

We registered in our county and neighboring counties following their various procedures. We also received emails from the pharmacy chain whenever they were going to have vaccination appointments available in the coming days. For the pharmacy, the online reservation site opened up at 6 AM and then the site refreshed every few minutes to let you know how many appointments were still available at each pharmacy. Around 7 AM, if you were still online, you saw that all appointment slots were gone in your area pharmacies. You disconnected and tried again when the next announcement came. After about four weeks of trying, we were notified that we had an appointment in our county about ten minutes from our house.

This registration process led to my first feeling of guilt. My wife and I each had two devices we could use for registration. But what about all those people older than us who had no internet access, or were not computer-literate, or even those who had only one device? We (and the system) were putting them at a great disadvantage. But more on guilt later.

Giddiness

The day came and the vaccination process for dose one went very smoothly and very quickly. Giddiness! Two weeks and we would be about 80% safe. The vaccination process for dose two went equally well. Giddiness again! Two weeks and we could feel even more safe and start socializing indoors with vaccinated friends without a mask!

Two weeks passed and guilt started in a big way.

Guilt

There were people we knew who were older or in poorer health and still had not gotten appointments. And there were friends who had gotten COVID; some were in the hospital. One was subsequently determined to be a long-hauler and is still on oxygen. I felt guilty about my relative safety.

I started thinking about all those organizational leaders who were eligible and received vaccinations, while their front-line employees could not. I started thinking about teachers in the classroom, who were eligible in some locations and not in others (including those in my family).

Managing and Overcoming Vaccine Guilt

It turns out that vaccine guilt is a well-known phenomenon. According to Jim Jackson, director of behavioral health at the ICU Recovery Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, vaccine guilt is akin to survivor's guilt. Survivor's guilt is the feeling of guilt for surviving a dangerous situation in which other people lost their lives. It is grounded in concerns about what is right and fair. In a recent healthline article on managing COVID-19 vaccine guilt, psychotherapist Akua Boateng says it is natural to feel guilt when you have regained freedom that others have not regained. Boateng says this often aligns with the human feelings of empathy, equity, and fairness. It is a sign of compassion and caring.

Both articles continue with discussions of how to manage the vaccine guilt. They emphasize that by protecting yourself you are also helping your community achieve herd immunity, the point at which 70 to 90 percent of the population have become immune through vaccination, infection, or preexisting immunity. You also have the right to have compassion for yourself and your immediate family. You should acknowledge and honor your right to protect your health.

Valuing People

How does this all relate to the Baldrige Excellence Framework? The Baldrige core value of Valuing People includes committing to the well-being of your workforce and creating a culture of equity. Vaccine guilt can cause internal conflict related to your sense of fairness and well-being of the people you value. The Senior Leadership item (1.1) of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence asks how senior leaders create a culture of equity and the Workforce Engagement item (5.2) asks how your organizational culture promotes equity. 

It is easy for a compassionate leader, especially as people are required to be on-site at a work location, to feel guilt if they have been vaccinated before other members of the workforce. It is important to keep that sense of balance that comes with managing and overcoming the guilt.

All of the above aside, like many of you I am sure, I still have some sense of guilt and must continue reminding myself to manage the guilt.
 


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About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences...

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Comments

Similar to your situation, Sally and I couldn't find an easy way to be vaccinated early. Being in segment 1b, our vaccination dates were 2 - 3 months away. One of the advantages of having gone to medical school, though, was my ability to work in a covid vaccination clinic as a screener and advisor, and many years after hanging up the stethoscope, I donned my mask and helped at the county health department's vaccination clinic, held in a huge building that previously housed the county expo center and another at an old closed Food City building. Sally volunteered to help get people checked in and other duties. In exchange for that service, we received our vaccines in February and March, experiencing the immense sense of relief that you described. Our guilt feelings were assuaged a bit by the volunteer service, and we both found that the time we spent was gratifying beyond becoming eligible to get the vaccine a few weeks early. In fact, we've volunteered several times since then and participated in getting literally thousands of our fellow citizens immunized. I completely understand your gamut of emotions, and I'm just happy that you all were able to be immunized. Perhaps next time we endure this type of calamity, we will use what we've learned as a species and manage our response more adeptly.

Timely article. I agree with the phases identified, getting my second shot today. Lots of bad info floating around. Thank you for keeping it real.

I assume that i am the long hauler Harry is referring to. Initially, I had vaccine envy when people told me that they had gotten vaccinated while my wife and I were dealing with Covid. After three months of dealing with this awful ailment, I have changed my mind. Congratulations to everyone who is doing their part by getting vaccinated and helping to put a stop to this deadly pandemic. If you think the vaccination makes you uncomfortable, consider yourself lucky to not experience the real thing. My best wishes to all the Baldrige staff. Stay safe and get vaccinated. Barry

Hey there,
Awesome blog on mental health! Mental health is one of the leading issues in our generation. It is so destructive that it is destroying our future. Majority of students in colleges and universities are facing mental illness. It can cause serious problems for you or your loved one, your mental health is affected but it can all be treated if you seek help. In the modern era mental health is badly affected from social media and its other platforms. We should try to end the stigma with mental illness so we can save our future.

Seems like we are both in the industry of helping people and the more we can connect and come together over a common subject, the better.

Thanks!

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