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Is it really our turn?

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MARCH 16, 2021

The COVID-19 vaccine is the first commodity in my lifetime that is to be provided without regard for wealth or privilege.

But there is a bit of gray area here for us in terms of access.

The California state guidance and Alameda County guidance clearly state that those in the educational category should have occupational risk in order to be eligible to receive the vaccine. Alameda County goes so far as to plead, “If you work in one of the sectors listed in #2, but do not have direct contact with clients/public or have the option to work from home, we ask that you please wait your turn.” It does so in red font, indicating to me that “please wait your turn” means “Wait your damn turn!”

One suspects there is some urgency to expand eligibility to high-risk groups such as factory workers or those in the trades who are working in person, or even to 60-year-olds, whose risk is many times that of college-age students working remotely.

The vaccine sign-up website My Turn, on the other hand, allows users to simply click that their occupation is in “Education and Childcare,” which indicates that they are eligible. To me, as someone who programs, this is a bug.

So, guidance is a hard “no,” while the website says, “sure.”

UC Berkeley campus administration and The Daily Californian are leading employees and student employees to go directly to My Turn instead of understanding the full guidance. Our motto, “Fiat lux,” is not well served here. Indeed, information that is critical for students to make this decision within their own ethical framework has been obscured.

Decisions such as these determine who we are as people. I believe it wrong for us as a university to favor a decision that few could reasonably call socially just. Indeed, it is hypocrisy given the rhetoric around UC Berkeley.

In my view, one aspect of Martin Luther King Jr.’s requirement for self-purification is that those who advocate for ethical actions should apply a high standard to their own behavior.

Thus, I will wait for my students to be eligible for the vaccine before taking up a spot in line.

It’s less about danger than isolation and inconvenience for most of us with the privilege of working remotely. And it’s far more important for young people to be with each other than for old guys such as me.

Satish Rao is a professor at UC Berkeley.

MARCH 16, 2021