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M y friend C was getting her vaccine round the corner from my house and wanted me to go with her. I thought this was for my sparkling company but actually it was because she was scared. She’s the most incredible baby. She got us lost – surely, on some level, deliberately – but there was no prospect of her missing her appointment since everybody, from the stewards to the form-hander-outers to the nurses, is just hell-bent on making this work. I haven’t seen such a symphony of joyful intent since I used to work the beer tents at festivals.
“You’re surely not old enough for a jab?” the first steward said to her. “Right?” I nodded in agreement. “You should give it to me instead, I look way older than her.” This is a source of pain for everyone who knows C. When I told the kids I was going to Amsterdam for her 50th, my son said: “WHAT? She’s older than you?” and my daughter said: “She looks about 20.” Then I railed for hours about how biologically impossible it would be for a person with a 20-year-old daughter to also be 20, while driving like the angriest woman alive, so they’re unlikely to make that mistake twice.
It turned out that the steward was also a friend of C’s, which made sense, since it’s quite a personal remark to make to a stranger. By now, I’d internally raised the prospect of scoring myself a vaccination that I didn’t, by age, yet merit; you hear this story a lot, that if a person were to loiter around a vaccination centre, they might get lucky, especially at the end of the day. I didn’t even want to be vaccinated. I’ve only just had Covid and I feel like it would be a waste of my precious antibodies. I’m not at all worried about vaccination passports to go to the pub – I don’t think anyone in government has the competence for such an undertaking, and I also think there would be riots. I might even enjoy rioting more than being in the pub.
But still, I’d raised a moral dilemma and I couldn’t let it lie. What if they did offer me one? How would I feel about queue jumping? What was the balance of pro-social imperative, between depriving someone else, and making myself less of a danger to the outside world? By now we’d got through the forms, and an impossibly cheerful woman was telling us that I was allowed to go in with C, if she liked. They definitely weren’t doing me.
Being highly fashionable – well, you would be, wouldn’t you, if you looked 20? – C was wearing a top that rendered her arms totally inaccessible from every angle. “Can’t you just put the needle in lower down?” she asked, and the nurse explained that no, he needed the shoulder bone as a reference point, and I thought, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that you always think you know how medical procedures work from the telly, but you’re always missing some vital piece of information.
“Just take your top off and drape it over yourself for modesty, like President Macron,” I suggested, helpfully and not at all vindictively. “Ooh that sounds interesting, how did he do that?” said the nurse, and I hurried to find him a picture on my phone, except I couldn’t because it wasn’t Macron, it was some other, also French, politician, and by this time, C had wriggled one arm out of her top and we were all definitely friends, me, C, the nurse and the other person C already knew, plus everyone else getting vaccinated. I’ve been to weddings – loads of weddings – where there’s less fellow feeling in the room.
A couple of days later, our feckless embarrassment of a prime minister told a bunch of his idiot colleagues that the vaccination rollout was a triumph for capitalism, and for greed. I already knew that the government was going to get a lot of political capital from the vaccination programme, and that they wouldn’t deserve it – that the credit would properly belong to all the people they despise, scientists, experts, NHS staff, volunteers, people who care about one another. What I did not anticipate was this nuclear-strength trolling, that he’d use a life-saving endeavour falsely as evidence not just of his own competence but his entire toxic worldview. I was, quite genuinely, amazed by the brass neck of the man. I did not think that was possible; I did not think he had any bad quality, in any amount, that would surprise me.
Ever since, I’ve been waking up at 5am, just fuming, too livid to regain unconsciousness, thinking “How dare he? How dare he take all that love we have for one another, and try to parlay it into a creed of selfishness? How dare he think we’re so stupid? Why isn’t the first word of his every sentence ‘sorry’?” This is super annoying, because if I’m going to wake up before dawn, too angry to get back to sleep, I basically am 50. I should have scored myself a vaccine after all.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist