SAN ANTONIO – Health professionals are asking residents not to be discouraged from getting the COVID-19 vaccine due to others shaming them because they fall into a particular health risk category due to a condition such as obesity.
Sarah Loyd is a resident who says she’s accepted being overweight.
“I have no problem saying the ‘F-word,’” Loyd said. “I am not afraid to say I’m fat, but it is a loaded word that some people use toward others that could be devastating.”
She said she has been faced with being obese her entire life.
“I stopped struggling with my weight,” Loyd said. “I come from a line of heavy Viking people. As much as I make peace with my own weight, I know a lot of people have not with me or themselves. When I talk about being fat or being obese, they get uncomfortable. But in reality, people do not know the struggle or things we have all done constantly to not be obese.”
Like many Texans, Loyd fits in the 1-B high-risk category due to her weight, which qualifies her for the vaccine.
“There are a variety of factors that make a person a high risk,” said Dr. Allen Anderson, with UT Health San Antonio. “Multiple medical problems. Some common problems we see are those with diabetes, hypertension, asthma, obesity or chronic heart diseases. If you are in that population that we know from early studies seem to get sicker at a higher rate or have a higher risk of dying, then that becomes the population to vaccinate first.”
Despite that health recommendation and being confident about her condition, Loyd was hesitant to get her vaccine, and after she did, she had a sense of guilt.
“Being otherwise healthy and getting the vaccine, I thought there are people who need this more than I do, and my parents are over 65, and they are going to get the vaccine that week, and I thought, ‘Am I really in the same at-risk category as my parents who are in that age group?’” Loyd said.
Loyd realized she wasn’t alone.
“People continue to struggle with being obese and will put themselves further back in line just to avoid that stigma of, ‘I am taking something that someone deserves more because they take care of themselves.’ Well, whether or not I take care of myself is not a stranger’s business,” Loyd said.
She took to Facebook with a post describing her experience of why she felt guilty and why she decided she shouldn’t have felt guilty about protecting herself or those around her.
“After I posted that, I personally received direct messages from some of my friends saying they had friends who told them, ‘You don’t deserve to get this vaccine right now because you did this to yourself.’ To me, that sounds like they are saying you deserve to get sick because you already have a condition,” Loyd said.
Dr. Lindsay Bira, a clinical psychologist, said this kind of shaming takes place because people are frustrated and panicking to get in line for the vaccine.
“There is a lot of fear running around during the pandemic,” Bira said. “When people feel fear, it is something we can’t do something about immediately, and oftentimes, people point fingers at the problem they think they are pointing at. Sometimes that comes out at anger towards different groups of people.”
Bira said supporting each other is important during this time.
“If someone is facing something that makes them a higher risk, we need to acknowledge that they should be protected and have access, and just because they have that access does not mean they are taking the spot of someone else. The moment we view it that way is the moment that someone allows themselves to potentially get angry about it. So, people who do have these feelings, we need to take a step back as far as judgment.”
Bira said that goes for those in high-risk categories due to invisible illnesses.
“There could be someone with cancer that can’t be seen, with asthma, a blood disorder, or a first responder,” Bira said. “Upon first look, these people look healthy, but we will never know the entire story; therefore, we have to support them.”
“The fact is that this is the body I have right now and the body I need to take care of,” Loyd said. “I need to get this vaccine to protect myself, my son and my loved ones. We are all really links in the same chain, so anytime you can make that chain a little healthier is a good thing. We need to encourage each other to get that vaccine and not hold back because of any kind of stigma we may have.”
No matter how frustrated people may be, health professionals encourage everyone to continue trying to get the vaccine and not hold back because of shame.
“Shame makes us hide, and anxiety makes us hide, and when we hide, nothing good happens,” Bira said. “Our mission as humans is to push back against shame and anxiety, especially when something is as important as our health.”