As someone with an autoimmune disorder, asthma, and a whole host of other chronic illnesses and disabilities, I’ve barely left the house in almost a year, apart from walking my dog. So when the news of the vaccines broke, I was relieved that I might finally, one day, get to hug my family again. The vaccine brought a new hope that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
However, despite being vulnerable, I wasn’t at the top of the U.K. vaccination priority list. I wasn’t even in the top five. As I’m under the age of 65, I fell into the sixth priority group of the U.K. vaccination program: “Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group or long term condition.”
While I waited, I accepted an offer to get a much-needed operation ― on the understanding that here in the U.K., all non-emergency surgery was being deported to private hospitals, minimizing my risk of catching the virus I was terrified of succumbing to. After waiting for forever, the day finally arrived when I would get the vaccination to protect me against coronavirus.
I entered my local vaccination center feeling excited and a little giddy, but that feeling soon disappeared.
On check-in, as I confirmed my details with a volunteer, I felt as if he and his colleague were suspiciously eyeing me up and down. At first, I brushed this off; I was four days out of an operation to remove my ovaries, so I didn’t look in the best shape. I was disheveled and exhausted and had pulled on the first clean clothes I could find.
But I was confused when instead I was asked, “Are you an essential worker then?” I replied with a somewhat bewildered, “No.” Undeterred, he asked, “So why are you getting the vaccine?”
Here we go, I thought, another nondisabled stranger thinking they’re entitled to my entire medical history.
I realize that my reaction may sound unwarranted to American readers, but I must point out here that this is where the U.K. and U.S. vaccination process differs. In the U.S., you might be asked to prove your qualification at the test center; in the U.K., the National Health Service contacts you to tell you when you’re eligible. Because of this, you don’t have to prove it when you get to the test center, as they have your medical records on the computer. So this question wasn’t necessary to my care.
After almost 20 years of having others constantly trying to dictate my identity, I’ve finally become good at setting my boundaries, so I didn’t give him any details. I replied, “I’m on the vulnerable list,” and carried on.
I was experiencing pain in my pelvis from my recent operation, so I was struggling to stand. After I asked a different volunteer if I could sit down in one place in the line as I couldn’t move around the waiting room, he loudly relayed the information that “The young lady sitting down is waiting for her vaccine! She needs to sit cause she’s had an operation” to other volunteers who equally expressed an interest in me as if I were a sideshow attraction.