Westneat shots Feb. 23

A doctor signals for more Pfizer vaccine at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic Jan. 24 in Amazon’s Meeting Center on Seventh Avenue in Seattle. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Now that I’ve written a couple of times about coronavirus vaccines, I’ve noticed, readers, that some of your correspondences about the matter have taken on a certain … edge.

There was the one from a reader in West Seattle, irked that his brother-in-law, in his 30s, was able to get the shot as part of some leftover vaccine because he’s affiliated with a union.

“This shouldn’t be how it works, and it makes me mad,” he wrote.

There was the University of Washington employee who wrote, questioning why some lab workers and professors there have been getting vaccinated: “They’re not on the front lines. They’re at home on Zoom!”

The other day an emailer called out our local congressional reps, after they had been featured in a story for proposing a nationwide ban on vaccine providers giving out special access to the shots.

But weren’t members of Congress themselves among the first in the nation to be vaccinated, the reader asked? Why, yes, they were, in late December and early January, as part of a special provision for the vaccine that the in-house congressional doctor called a “continuity of government action.”

“I’ve voted for you twice now … but this is a bad look for you,” one elderly constituent wrote to Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish, who had posted a photo of herself being inoculated. “Can’t understand why you are more eligible than me.”

They’ve already coined a name for this phenomenon: vaccine envy. It’s said to be a rising pandemic of its own.

“Instead of making seniors a priority, you jump in there first Kim?” another constituent wrote to Schrier, who is 52.

People really went nuts when some Republicans, like Sens. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, posted selfies while getting the shot.

“Republicans spent the last eight months politicizing the coronavirus, telling their constituents not to wear a mask, that it’s a hoax, and now they’re getting the vaccine before front line workers and teachers,” read a typical response on Twitter.

I admit to having similar feelings well up in myself. It’s the opposite of schadenfreude. The other day I saw a friend who happily volunteered that she’s been vaccinated, and I blurted out: “Really? You?” I immediately felt stupid and petty — which psychologists say (yes, psychologists have already weighed in on this) is all perfectly … normal.

“Sometimes you’re going to blame it on another person, even though it’s the system that’s really causing the stress,” one therapist told USA Today this past week.

Feeling excluded is OK, the therapists said, as the scarcity in the vaccine distribution system, as well as seemingly arbitrary rules about who’s next in line, are contributing to a great psychological divide in the country. I call it the “have-shots” and the “have-nots.” (This is starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss story.)

They told the paper that when you’re around other people who are vaccinated, and you’re not, you need to ponder exactly why you’re feeling left out. Is it “deliberate exclusion — not being invited to the party?” Or “indirect exclusion — when you couldn’t get to the party because of traffic?”

The source of the envy is probably the latter, they said, making it easier to let it slide — or to at least not blame your friends.

I don’t know, what if you feel more like you made it to the party, and you’re standing in a long line for the keg, but then Ted Cruz cuts in front to take the last beer? And then flies off to Cancún with it?

That’s not envy, that’s resentment, psychologists say. Resentment is bad.

One summed up: “The resentment, in the end, it’s not going to make the vaccine more available.”

Thanks for that, psychologists. What do we owe you?

Seriously: Assuming it doesn’t become a national psychosis, there might be an upside to this phenomenon of vaccine envy. It could be the secret antidote to what health officials say is eventually going to be the real weak spot in our war against the coronavirus: vaccine hesitancy.

The worry going into this worldwide health experiment was that so many people would refuse to get the vaccine that the have-nots may outnumber the have-shots, allowing the virus to continue its run.

But if you’re hacked off that your brother-in-law got it, or that your work-by-Zoom boss got it, or that Kim Schrier or Lindsey Graham got it, or even if you simply know somebody who’s hacked off that somebody else got it, then surely you will be highly motivated to race out and get it, too.

Eventually — I’m hoping around April or May — we’ll lose interest in who’s a have-shot and who’s a have-not. Or we’ll just become confused. But in either case, instead of eyeing one another as nothing but virus vectors as we walk down the street, we can go back to being individual people again.

That’s what happens in the Dr. Seuss story, anyway.

© 2021 The Seattle Times

Danny Westneat is a Seattle Times columnist. Email him at dwestneat@seattletimes.com.