The Joy and the Agony of the Half-Vaccinated Couple

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Soon after her hospital pharmacist husband was vaccinated in late December, Esther Robards-Forbes’ relief turned to jealousy. “Pure jealousy,” she says.

Of course, Robards-Forbes was elated knowing Eric, her husband, was no longer vulnerable to COVID, but she was also envious of his freedom—that he didn’t need to constantly weigh the risks of menial tasks. So Robards-Forbes, 38, began to use Eric’s newfound immunity to her advantage, designating him the family’s errand runner. Trips to the home improvement store, grocery shopping, and chores for both sets of their parents, who live nearby in Austin, Texas, fell to Eric, 39. “He was the supply person to run into the zombie wasteland,” Robards-Forbes says.

Eric took the errand boy status in stride, Robards-Forbes say, and for his efforts, Eric was handsomely rewarded with a trip to Las Vegas with a few of his other, fully vaccinated, hospital worker friends in early March. (Sounds nice, right?)

Over the past year, various domestic inequities have come to the fore. From mothers shouldering a large share of parenting to one partner taking on the bulk of household chores, our year of intimate cohabitation created ample opportunity for rifts and resentments to form. The staggered approach to vaccination gave rise to another chasm in relationships: The half-vaccinated couple. Whether based on status as an essential employee, designation in an earlier priority group, or pure luck, when one partner gets the jab, after the initial elation subsides, the other can feel left behind.

When Carina Wytiaz, 44, took it upon herself to help elderly and eligible family members and neighbors in her Provo, Utah community secure vaccine appointments, it was as if she was readying friends for a party she’d never attend. The exclusion became personal when her husband Joe, a teacher, was inoculated in January. “He came back from his shot and he was like, ‘Ugh my arm hurts,’” says Wytiaz, the director of marketing for a software company. She had no time for the dramatics. “I’m like, ‘No one wants to hear about your sore arm.’”

While the particulars of the family’s life didn’t dramatically shift, Wytiaz longed for the protection her husband now enjoyed. She wanted to replicate the joy she felt when Joe, 45, was vaccinated, but for herself. That day came sooner than expected when Wytiaz volunteered through her county to enroll residents for vaccine appointments. Since volunteers were eligible, Wytiaz got her shot a few weeks after her husband. She came home with a sore arm. “I had to apologize,” she says. “I thought it was the man-cold equivalent—that he was just complaining about it—but no, my arm was really sore.”

No one would prefer their partner delay their vaccination on their account; a half-vaccinated household is safer than a totally vulnerable one and knowing your spouse is protected can provide almost as much comfort as getting the shot yourself. Still, frustration can mount knowing your better half can enjoy life without the constant threat of contagion while you shelter at home. Or on the contrary, you may feel guilty resuming a normal social life without your partner by your side.

Paola Cespedes understands why her boyfriend is hesitant to get jabbed. He wants to be absolutely sure there are no serious side effects, she says. But when she was given the opportunity to get vaccinated, Cespedes, 29, took advantage in the hope she’d be able to safely visit her parents.

The Jersey City, N.J.-based couple discussed their household’s new safety guidelines and decided that Cespedes would only meet with other vaccinated friends and family unmasked; around everyone else, she’d stay masked. So far, Cespedes, a publicist, has helped her vaccinated parents move and has picked up the slack on public-facing errands, like grocery delivery. She has a few brunches with vaccinated friends on the books over the next few weeks but is already exhausted at the idea of returning to the social world full-throttle. The fact that her boyfriend still isn’t vaccinated provides her with the perfect excuse to bail. “I think my ticket right now is my boyfriend isn’t vaccinated yet.”

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