Sunday, March 14, 2021

I will embrace ubuntu and wait my vaccine turn

A former colleague spent weeks trying to book an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. He had become eligible under Massachusetts guidelines to receive a vaccine, but searching online for an actual appointment proved quite challenging. Ultimately, he found an appointment for both him and for his spouse, but their appointments were on the same date at different sites in different cities which presented a logistics challenge. They met the challenge and received their first vaccine.

Dr. Tamara Rodenberg, the president of Bethany College, a small liberal arts college in West Virginia, told me that because her faculty is teaching students in person, the state arranged to have vaccines for college faculty and staff shipped to her campus where they were each vaccinated at the college’s health center. The few remaining vaccines were offered to eligible residents of the small village where the college is located.

News reports are full of stories of those who are frustrated by not yet being eligible for a vaccine especially when they’d be eligible if they’d lived in a nearby state. If the overarching goal is to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible and there is still a limited supply of vaccine available, it seems wise to prioritize getting shots in the arms of the most vulnerable portions of the population first, whether vulnerability is determined by age, health, professions or other criteria.

My wife who sees mental health clients through a neighborhood health clinic in Boston is vaccinated. My son who teaches high school English in Virginia is vaccinated. My brother-in-law in Minnesota is vaccinated. My oldest grandson who is contracted through University of Maine’s ROTC program to be commissioned as an officer the day before he graduates in May is also vaccinated.

I am not vaccinated because my age and health do not yet meet Massachusetts guidelines to receive a vaccine. I am fine with having to wait my turn. When the moment comes for me to be eligible, I will seize the opportunity.

Our current president tells us that any of us who want to be vaccinated will be able to get a shot by the end of May. I hope he is right. That would provide plenty of time for it to feel safer for me to visit with others who have been vaccinated or to return to campus to teach in person this fall.

As long as others are being vaccinated and increasing the chances that the numbers of deaths from COVID-19 dramatically fall, I will patiently wait. The more people get vaccinated, the less likely it is that going out in public will lead to me or someone else getting sick. Many people think of this as herd immunity but it speaks to another concept — widely embraced in south Saharan Africa — “Ubuntu.”

The word “Ubuntu” has been roughly translated in English to “I am because you are,” which basically holds that we are all in this together. I am able to be who I am because you are who you are. It cherishes a sense of community. Now seems a time for each of us to avoid cynicism and embrace the idea of Ubuntu.

If you get a vaccine that increases the likelihood that I can continue to be who I am.

In the spirit of Ubuntu, I will wait my turn without grousing, without trying to jump in line, without moving to at least 12 different states where I’d be able to sign up now. It seems the right thing to do.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 


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