She is still the lovely, sweet-tempered woman I married more than a decade ago. When I ask a question, she answers it thoughtfully. And when I express my fears, she quickly assuages them.
All that despite the fact that my lovely young wife has recently entered the legions of the new elite. By which I mean she has become one of the relatively few in the United States—or, for that matter, the world—to have received a much-hailed Covid vaccine.
I don’t begrudge her the early injection; she rightfully earned a place at the head of that fabled line by working at the front of a far less enviable one comprising courageous health workers fighting this pandemic scourge. I do, however, wonder when—and sometimes even if—I will be allowed to join. The answer lies in the outcome of a raging debate.
Pretty much everyone agrees that after front liners get the shot, the elderly residents of nursing homes should follow. Who gets the coveted vaccine next, however, has been a matter of some conjecture; should it be people who, like me, are over 65 and most likely to die, or so-called “essential workers” who keep the economy alive? And, in a question I never expected to see raised in America during my lifetime, to what extent should race determine whose survival gets priority?
“Older populations are whiter,” Dr. Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, recently told the New York Times. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”
Dr. Peter Szilagyi, pediatrics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a voting member of an independent committee of expert advisors to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agrees. Ethics, he recently told the committee, “clearly favors the essential worker group because of the high proportion of [minorities]…”
The other committee members apparently listened because last weekend they voted to recommend prioritizing essential frontline workers. Oh yes, and people over 75; a group that, for better or worse, doesn’t quite yet include yours truly.
All of which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I never intended my visit to the United States to stretch beyond January; already I find myself eager to return to Northern Mindanao, which somehow feels more like home. Recently, two U.S. companies informed Manila’s ambassador to Washington D.C. that the Philippines will receive 4 million to 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. But the rollout isn’t likely to happen until the third quarter of 2021. And, as a foreigner—even one who loves this island nation—I’m unlikely to achieve high priority.
Hence my dilemma; to go or to not to go? Should I extend my American sojourn long enough to receive the vaccine, or fly back across the ocean to take my chances in the Philippines? Which is preferable: hunkering down in an uncomfortable place with the certainty of ultimate redemption, or resuming life on another continent fueled mainly by Derring-Do?
I honestly don’t yet know the answer to that question. As I ponder it, though, I am buoyed by the knowledge of at least one incontrovertible fact; that I now live with a bona fide member of the new Covid elite. The upside: when annoying errands need doing, she’s the only one that’s safe to go.
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David Haldane is an award-winning American journalist, author, and radio broadcaster. His latest book, a short-story collection called “Jenny on the Street,” is due out in January. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, Haldane divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines.
Originally Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily