I know that all of you watch enough news to know that the distribution of the Covid vaccine, in my case Moderna, is becoming a national crisis, both in terms of limited distribution and national debate about who should get the limited supply first. On our Monday evening local news [December 28], we saw our Orange County executives receiving their shots. Privately I did not think I would be able to get vaccinated till March or April, and probably then in my doctor’s office. When I learned that 19,000 doses had been sent this weekend to my county for first line providers and the like, I never considered that the average senior gentry like myself would get anywhere near these precious first shipments. However, there on TV was the announcement that anyone 65 or older whose residence was Orange County could go on-line to register for 3000 available doses offered this week and next.
Margaret and I do not normally win lotteries, but immediately, in the middle of dinner, Margaret and I each logged in on to the Orange County Covid site on our IPads, just as we had been instructed on TV. Naturally, the site was overloaded for both of us, but we each kept hitting the “Next” button—literally about several hundred times--and about an hour or two later our pads lit up like Christmas trees and we obtained reservations—in the same two-hour window, no less. I believe there were eleven openings left. Tuesday morning Orange County texted us with our bar codes for admission and record keeping for the next day’s vaccination.
Naturally, I was surprised this all happened so quickly for us. I had long believed that there would be an elaborate pecking order for vaccine access, from first providers to nursing homes to teachers, etc. [Margaret is, in fact, an adjunct professor at UCF who visits public schools as part of her job, but we did not expect that to open any privilege doors for us.] We are both in the 73-74-year-old range, short of the CDC’s guidance of age 75, and neither of us have unusual health issues or think of ourselves as particularly vulnerable other than what the actuarial tables tell us. We are both proactive about flu shots, pneumonia vaccines, shingle shots, etc. We had no expectations of early opportunity; just hopeful we could be treated before summer to do some long-postponed travel abroad.
So, to what do we owe our unusual good luck? Well, our case is a textbook example of who you know and where you live. By the norms of the Center for Disease Control standards, the age of 75 is currently the cutoff for inoculations for vulnerable populations; my generation is, nationally, in the next lower tier. There is, of course, a national consensus of sorts that front line providers and nursing home residents should move to the front of the line.
However, I live in Florida. Our governor, Ron DeSantis, has been governed by one principle since the virus reached the Sunshine State almost a year ago: his reelection in 2022. Consequently, our protective measures throughout the state have been minimal at best. There are no statewide orders on lockdowns, masks, or public gatherings to speak of. Truth be told, major businesses and Catholic bishops have been more proactive in protecting the public. Governor DeSantis recently addressed residents at Florida’s giant retirement mecca, The Villages, about 30 miles north of my county, promising to make the vaccine available immediately at age 65. This would be fine if the vaccines were rolling out in large numbers of dosages, which is presently not the case. [In fairness, this underwhelming availability of vaccines is a federal failure as much as a state issue.] In Florida there is a political twist here, as residents of The Villages, like many of the 250,000 seniors who live in my county, are “snowbirds,” the folks who spend large portions of the milder months up north with families and grandchildren. There is political capital in freeing them up to travel when the first buds of spring appear. And Orange County is one of the world’s vacation meccas, and there has been great effort to keep the restaurants and bars open [though Disney’s policing of CDC policy is very stringent, I am told by my patients.]
Given the absence of state supervision, each county must fall back on its own resources to establish vaccine protocols, and there is a disturbing inequality in funding, infrastructure, and experience across county lines even here in Central Florida. Orange County’s on-line reservation and delivery system is first rate. [There is an expectation of Disneyesque quality, I guess.] But we have good friends in bordering counties where no on-line registration system exists, and individuals must call county health offices, whose phone lines are jammed and offices severely understaffed. This morning’s Orlando Sentinel describes the statewide problems encountered so far.
The current situation certainly weighed on my mind when I took advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated. There is unfairness in the system, to be sure, and as you might expect, I do try to examine issues from a Catholic moral perspective, and there are indeed moral considerations surrounding both Covid-19 and the medical means of treating and preventing it.
The medical resources available for illnesses and pandemics are uneven even across state and county lines, but this is a small paradigm of the challenges facing world health. Pope Francis has written and preached exhaustively about the rights of all persons on God’s planet to enjoy a modicum of preventive and proactive health care, matters that include clean water, sanitation, nourishment, and access to professional care. Covid-19 is teaching us that an international fraternity of care needs to govern our interactions across the globe.
Closer to home, the medical profession’s “do no harm” principle extends to all public officials in the establishment of public policy. It is becoming clearer that our country’s ability—at all levels of government—to address chronic and unexpected health emergencies is compromised by inadequate funding and an unseeming politicization of the healing process.
Our Catholic catechetics must review its contents and resources to address the morality of self-care and social responsibility. The many breakdowns of Covid-19 preventive personal discipline are rarely addressed as sin, but what other term would you use? The Fifth Commandment, in Catholic tradition, has come to imply an obligation to care for one’s own body and the physical safety of others. The political statement of going mask-less, for example, can hardly be justified in the face of honoring the body as a “Temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Catholics are obliged to seek truth in both the religious and the scientific realm. We hold that God is revealed naturally in the wonders of science. Consequently, there is an obligation to respect sound scholarship—and that includes the principles by which we come to understand more about ourselves and our surroundings. To undermine the common good through the seeding of “offbeat theories” which have continually failed the crucible of peer review and scientific method carries moral guilt commensurate to the harm it causes. Anti-vaxxers need to address their stance by a moral light. About fifteen years ago I sought medical help for deafness; a specialist explained to me that there is a strong correlation between mumps and adult deafness. At age 14 I was hospitalized for a severe case of mumps that invaded much of my body. Of course, this was long before the discovery of the mumps vaccine. It is hard for me to comprehend how parents expose their children to such long-term risks today when vaccines are readily available. At the very least, I believe there is a moral imperative to prevent the proliferation of Covid and other contagious diseases.
I am not going to lie and say that I had no thoughts about the consequences of injection of a new drug into my arm. However, I trust sound medicine and the institutions that brought it forth. I understand that Covid-19 is a grave danger to a good number of those infected. I also understand that my inoculation contributes to the common good, and in some way is my contribution to the ministry of Protection of Life. I regret that in my corner of the world there was not a fairer system of distribution in my state and in my country, but I could not see that declining the drug would any way change that equation.
So, it is now early morning, and you might be wondering about side effects. [The CDC advisory on side effects is here.] I woke up at 3 AM with a very sore arm and a case of euphoria [I do not usually blog in the middle of the night] for I consider myself extremely lucky to have had this health intervention so soon, and I look forward to my second dose on January 27. This was a Christmas gift I never expected to get, and I sincerely hope all of you can protect yourselves and your loved ones as soon as possible.
Time for breakfast.