Vaccine Envy – When Is It My Turn?

By our intern Thea Haldorsen

The Framework Agreement Plan for Reopening of Denmark was introduced to the public on April 15th [1]. For the first time since the pandemic broke out we can see light at the end of the tunnel. In just a few months we will be able to hug, have big dinner parties, and stand way too closely to strangers on the dance floor. That is, if the vaccination roll-out goes according to plan. It has been announced that certain restrictions, regular testing, and social distancing will continue until we have achieved herd immunity. Herd immunity means that a large proportion of the community is immune making the spread of corona unlikely [2]. Needless to say, the corona vaccine is in high demand as it represents a freedom we have not felt for over a year.

Never in the history of time has a vaccine been developed so quickly and it is thanks to the incredible effort put into corona research [3]. Still, producing and distributing vaccines to the whole world is a lengthy process and priorities must be given. Each country is responsible for how to distribute the vaccine. This has led to heated debates and comparison between countries. What is the best approach? What would be most fair? I remember being home on Christmas break in Norway when the vaccination plan for Denmark was released [4]:

  • Phase 1: Vaccination of risk groups, and health and care professionals
  • Phase 2: Vaccination of the general population

As a part-time health care worker in Denmark, I knew it was a matter of time before I was offered the desirable vaccine. I remember feeling excited and part of something special. It was like the corona period had been one big marathon and now the finish line was just a few kilometers ahead! The excitement was short-lived as I called up my friend who works as a nurse in Norway. In Norway, health care professionals were not being prioritized in phase 1 [5]. It was a bittersweet conversation as I – a part-time health care worker – would get the vaccine months before she – a full-time nurse – would get it. This was my first encounter with vaccine envy.

Vaccine envy is an entirely normal feeling that appears when we watch people around us receive something we desperately want but cannot have [6]. Humans are hard-wired to take care of themselves so wanting something that helps us stay safe is perfectly natural [7]. During the year of corona we have been prioritizing our safety, so for many of us our psychological needs have been neglected. Receiving the vaccine could mean that we can hug our grandparents again, invite our friends over for dinner, or sit closely on the couch. In other words, we would finally be able to prioritize our need for love and belonging. For many the vaccine became a symbol of safety and happiness.

Surely enough, I received my first dose of the vaccine in February. I was closing in on the finish line! Two weeks later, a press release from The Danish National Board of Health made my heart sink. The vaccine I got had been taken off the market [8]. It was like someone moved the finish line five kilometers ahead. My first thought was, I wish I had gotten another vaccine. That was my first experience with vaccine envy. When I thought about it nothing would really change when I got the second vaccine. I still needed to keep my distance and I could not travel anywhere. Yet, I was disappointed and could not shake off a longing for the vaccine. My second though was, am I being greedy? I do not live with anyone in the high-risk-category and most of my friends and family have not received the vaccine. Why should I get it before them?

The funny thing about us humans is that we have an emotional and a logic side which do not always see eye-to-eye. A person may logically understand that some people need the vaccine more than others but may feel the desire to have it themselves. “Jealousy is often viewed as a negative emotion ― something that reflects a lack of generosity” (Makepeace in [7], p. 3). However, jealousy is often just a secondary emotion in response to a primary emotion, such as fear or sadness [9]. For instance, you are scared to get sick without knowing and infect the rest of your family. When you see others being vaccinated you feel sad as you also want to spend time with your loved ones. Being envious does not mean you want other people to be unhappy.

“Vaccination envy isn’t malicious, it’s very human. It is a natural response to seeing others receiving an opportunity for greater safety and wanting the same opportunity for yourself.”

Makepeace in [7], p. 2

Now that we know that vaccine envy is real, then what? Just because it is normal does not mean that holding on to negative emotions is helpful to us. The next time one notice the jealousy creeping in when scrolling through another vaccine picture on social media try following these five steps recommended by The Huffington Post [7]:

Hold on a bit longer! Reopening is right around the corner and we can soon return to normal.

[1] Justitsministeriet. (2021, April 15). Aftale om udmøntning af genåbning pr. 21. april 2021. [Fact sheet].

[2] World Health Organization. (2020, December 31). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19. [Fact sheet].

[3] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, December 11). FDA Takes Key Action in Fight Against COVID-19 By Issuing Emergency Use Authorization for First COVID-19 Vaccine. [Press release].

[4] Sundhedsministeriet. (2020, November 27). Plan for vaccination af danskerne mod COVID-19. [Fact sheet].

[5] Folkehelseinstituttet. (2020). Hvem kan få koronavaksine og når forventer vi å kunne vaksinere ulike grupper?

[6] Ritvo, E. (2021, March 21). Do You Have Vaccine Envy? Psychology Today.

[7] Wong, B. (2021, March 4). Vaccine Envy Is Real. Here’s How To Deal With It In A Healthy Way. The Huffington Post.

[8] Sundhedsstyrelsen. (2021, March 11). Vaccination med COVID-19 vaccinen fra AstraZeneca sættes på pause indtil videre. [Press release].

[9] Verdolin, J. (2014, September 22). Is It Only Natural for Us to Be Jealous? Psychology Today.