This is Amy Tierce — 59 and unvaccinated — at her best: “I’m always happy to hear people have gotten their shots.”
This is the other Amy Tierce: “I’m also bugged by it.”
Tierce has spent the past few years caring for her husband, who’s living with cancer. Even before the pandemic she was feeling kind of shut in.
So when a good friend gushed about getting her first shot, Tierce shared her joy. But after they got off the phone she burst into tears anyway.
“She’s booking a flight to visit family in Florida,” Tierce, of Dartmouth, said. “I feel like life is moving on without me.”
Vaccine FOMO, simmering for a while now, hit the boiling point March 8, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the role of high school mean girl, released new guidelines dictating who’s in and who’s out.
“Fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing,” the new recommendations read.
On Thursday, President Biden directed states to ensure that all adults are eligible for the vaccine by May 1. In other words, an eternity.
It was one thing when the only folks getting the jab were vulnerable elders and front-line medical workers. FOMO — or the fear of missing out — wasn’t so bad then. There were fewer of them and little disagreement that they should go first. Besides, there was nowhere to go.
But as businesses reopen, and tales proliferate of people lucking or cheating their way into shots, a toxic brew of FOMO, jealousy, and suspicion is setting in.
Jessica Kosow, a Newton mother who started a Facebook group to help people find shots, Vaccine Hunters/Angels Massachusetts, regularly hears from those who feel they’ve been wronged in the vaccine lottery. Never mind that they’re healthy and decades under 65.
“My friends in other states who are my age have gotten shots,” they say. “This is ridiculous.”
The envy was captured by comedian Matt Buechele, in a viral video that shows him scrolling through his phone, trying to figure out how his friends qualified for the shot.
“What does Kevin do for a living?” Buechele asks an off-camera friend. “Is he a nurse? He’s a software engineer??? Did I miss an eligibility list? Ashley got it too. Ashley runs marathons. Oh, Ashley has asthma? Good for her, well, not good for her, but you know what I mean. Tyler just got it. He’s the strongest man I know. I’m obviously happy for them … I’m just, just …”
With FOMO intensifying, people are showing up at vaccine clinics hoping to score a leftover shot — even if it means spending eight hours in the back of a pharmacy.
On a recent night in a Boston Walgreens, the person in the front of the line was on her second day of camping out. “My mother has been here since 1 o’clock,” her desperate son pleaded with the (unmoved) pharmacist.
It was 9 p.m. and things were not looking good, but suddenly the pharmacist called out the last appointment. “Paula! Paula!” The line held its breath. No Paula.
Mom would get her shot. She stepped into a small room where only the lucky enter, and the rest of the standbys shuffled off, six disappointed souls wondering whether they should return tomorrow and risk another night of possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Brittany Fyffe, 31, a consumer insights analyst, is not yet ready to lurk at a clinic. But she’s growing increasingly pained by gleeful social media posts from vaccinated friends and recently became one 1.5 million people who’ve signed up with Dr. B, a startup that promises to match shot-seekers with leftover doses.
“I should probably stay off Twitter,” she said. “But I’m too deep in.”
In Newton, Christine O’Donnell’s FOMO is being triggered by her parents. They’ve been hitting the bars in Miami and just scored a reservation to the city’s hottest restaurant.
“I’m getting these updates [on Instagram and the family chat] about their amazing lives,” said O’Donnell, 40, the owner of Beacon Gallery, “and I’m here in Newton, doing hybrid school with a first- and third-grader and trying to keep my business going.”
Scott Madden, director of strategy at Connelly Partners, a South End ad agency, is predicting FOMO will spawn a variant: FOBO — the fear of being ostracized.
“The unvaccinated will become increasingly self-conscious,” he said, when vaccinated people don’t want to hang out with the unprotected for fear of infecting them.
FOMO is getting so intense a whole new category of self-help has been created. “Thoughts like ‘I’m never going to get vaccinated’ are too rigid,’ reads a story in Vice. “You’ll continue to feel miserable because the future you’ve imagined is steeped in disappointment.
“Saying ‘I’m frustrated I can’t get vaccinated and that’s OK — my time will come’ instead gives you permission to feel [expletive] while remaining realistic.”
Even as vaccine envy grows, some people secretly don’t want to go back to pre-pandemic social and work and appearance expectations, and others remain so scared of COVID that even once they’re vaccinated they don’t feel comfortable changing behavior learned over the past year.
“I am seeing a lot of post-pandemic stress disorder,” said Cambridge therapist Kyle Carney. “People who have had two doses of vaccine [but] are still terrified to venture out into the world.”