This just in: It’s safe to get a haircut. At least at one downtown-Manhattan establishment frequented by top models (and top wage earners), where on a recent Tuesday the sinks and stations were buzzing about ways to skirt the line for the coronavirus vaccine. “I got mine at the Javits,” bragged one fresh-faced assistant, who was born during the last gasp of the Clinton administration. As he shampooed me, he confessed that he was not yet “technically” eligible. But! “It’s easy to get by,” he assured me. “Just do it! You’ll feel so good!”
Welcome to New York, where the coronavirus shot is the latest status symbol, and its hyper-competitive, upwardly mobile residents are particularly susceptible to FOMO. Like the latest drop from Supreme or the newest brocade Gucci loafers, everyone who’s anyone is getting it. And not just those who are eligible.
“Screw it,” said one Tribeca mother of two elementary-school-age home-schoolers. “I’m a childcare provider, too.” In a technical sense, perhaps, but an employee of a day-care center she is not. That didn’t stop her from claiming to be eligible by inputting her data on vaccine.nyc.gov and ticking a little box declaring she has a pre-existing condition that nobody is ever going to check. Three hours later, she scored her first shot of “the Pfizer,” at the Hospital for Special Surgery, on the Upper East Side. If she’s caught lying, she’s subject to a possible $1,000 fine or up to a year in prison. But as the pandemic rages on, and the conventional wisdom is that every shot in an arm makes us all safer, is anyone really going to check?
Evidently, some of the more than 12 million New Yorkers across the state eligible for a vaccine are opting out for various reasons; the state has vaccinated just over 4.5 million people so far, and many appointments are still available. According to New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, upward of three million doses have been administered in the five boroughs alone––a significant portion of the state’s allocation.
Many Manhattanites, at least, are emboldened by the notion that “pre-existing conditions” can have many interpretations. “Have you ever had ‘mild asthma’ on your chart?” asked a friend, who temporarily suffered from such an affliction as a young child in the 1970s and is now enjoying the fruits of two doses of “the Moderna.” “What about ‘hypertension’? And have you checked your B.M.I. lately?”
“It’s easy to get by,” he assured me. “Just do it! You’ll feel so good!”
In much of the country, securing a vaccine appointment is a maddening, time-consuming process, one that continues to frustrate millions of those who are technically eligible. Not so much the case in New York City, where the bureaucracy is actually functioning well, for a change. After a glitchy start, and plenty of scarcity, the city vaccinated 372,469 people last week.
But getting an appointment requires tech savviness, and plenty of time to dedicate to the cause. According to The New York Times, in one wealthy—and largely white—Zip Code of the Lenox Hill neighborhood on the Upper East Side, 16 percent of residents have received two doses of the vaccine. This is approximately eight times the rate of vaccination in largely Black neighborhoods such as East New York, where the median income is around $38,000. Nonprofit organizations like Epicenter have assembled teams of volunteers to help secure appointments, while such tech start-ups as TurboVax and NYC Vaccine List aim to make the process more navigable and equitable.
A recent random search on vaccinefinder.nyc.gov on a weekday around lunchtime turned up dozens of appointments, including several that were available in 20 minutes. Many people are also taking advantage of leftover doses by waiting in line near closing time at facilities around town. (Pro tip: the clinics in the Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn are a good bet, according to friends.)
There’s a certain amount of peer pressure to all of this. You are planning to go to the Bahamas for spring break, no? Do you really want to expose your fellow travelers—or, even worse, the staff at the Four Seasons? At least one private club in the Caribbean has already vaccinated their entire staff. Don’t you want to see your parents? Eat indoors? Get Botox without worry or regret?
It’s kind of like being pressured to take drugs. “Come on,” whispers an enabler. “It’ll be great. You’ll never get caught.” The big challenge is suppressing the faintly queasy feeling that is the frequent companion of dishonesty.
But for the moment there are still a few healthy have-nots staying home, waiting their turn. Even if they do feel like suckers.
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for AIR MAIL