It has been two weeks since my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. It seems a bit surreal; I don’t feel any different. I was expecting this sense of calm or relief to sweep over me - I’m protected from getting seriously ill with Covid. But I don’t feel that sense of calm. Instead, I feel a sense of obligation to continue providing in person services and following the Covid “rules.” I’m aware of the gift I’ve been given and want to be sure that gift is used for its stated purpose: to protect me while I do my essential, in-person job.
I manage an assessment team with a mental health practice. We returned to providing in-person psychological assessment services a few months into the pandemic. Initially, I had no intent to return to providing in-person services until the threat of Covid was over. However, as the shutdown moved into its second month, I realized that Covid was not going away anytime soon and I would have to figure out how to carry out my job with the threat of Covid. My decision to return to providing in-person services was somewhat forced, as one of the medical insurance carriers we are paneled with decided that they would not reimburse for virtual psychological testing services; psychological testing had to be done in person to be insurance reimbursable. I was left with a choice: do I provide services only to those who can afford the high cost of psychological testing so I can continue to provide virtual services or do I return to in-person so I can provide services to most, not just those who can afford it? For me, this was not a hard decision. I work at a practice that accepts insurance because I believe mental health services should be accessible to all, not only those who have the finances to afford them. In June 2020, I returned to the office to conduct a psychological evaluation for the first time since the pandemic started.
Not much changed in the office. There are fewer of us in person at one time. We have surgical masks, face shields, and gloves available for use. The hallway is one way. There is a lot of hand sanitizer. Our testing offices have plexiglass shields on them with a cut out so we can pass testing equipment between us and the client. We have disinfectant wipes and spray. There are air purifiers in the offices. Our windows still do not open, and as far as we know, our HVAC system has not been updated. We still sit in a room with a client for hours at a time, administering cognitive abilities testing, asking questions, and passing manipulatives back and forth. But now, when the client leaves, we disinfect the materials. Our mitigation procedures have been successful thus far, as there have been no Covid transmissions in the office.
As soon as the vaccines were approved, my team started asking about getting vaccinated. In late December 2020, I was notified that my team was able to be vaccinated. We made appointments and got our first injections. We checked in on each other regarding side effects. We all discussed feeling a bit relieved that the vaccination process had started. And we waited for that email to schedule our second dose.
After my second dose in January 2021, my husband told me I should go on vacation. I was protected; I would be safe. For the first few days after the shot while my arm was still tender, I entertained the thought, even looked up hotels and flights to my favorite destination. But then, as the soreness wore off, I started thinking about the message that my going on vacation after getting vaccinated would send to others. I thought about what it taught my children, coworkers, and clients. The decision was one of privilege and selfishness. And that is not the message I want to send to my colleagues, coworkers, clients, or most of all, my children.
I was prioritized for a vaccine because I do in-person mental health work. I was not given the vaccine so I could work from home, nor was I given it so I could feel safer in social activities or go on vacation. I was prioritized for it because I was providing a needed service that put me at risk of Covid exposure. And that is how I should use it. To use it any other way seems disingenuous and is a slap in the face to the elderly (who are most likely to be severely impacted by a Covid infection) and others who have been working in-person but have yet to receive their doses.
So I guess the question is: what’s changing for me? In short, nothing. I still conduct my psychological assessments in person. I still mask, keep my distance when I can, and hand sanitize. The air purifier is still on the in office. The vaccine protects me; all of those other practices protect those around me. So if you see me, I’ll be wearing my mask, carrying my hand sanitizer, and keeping my distance. Because even though I’m protected, I still have a duty to protect others and to provide the in-person services that prioritized me for the vaccine.
Dr. Jessica Hasson is a licensed psychologist who conducts clinical and forensic evaluations in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC and a leader in Together Again MCPS, an organization representing several thousand Montgomery County parents and students who support reopening school.