Updated at 4:39 p.m. ET on April 29, 2021.
On my kitchen wall hangs a very small and very adorable cat calendar, with May 23 circled in Sharpie. It’s the day my Pfizer vaccine will, at long last, blossom into “full vaccination,” as sanctioned by the CDC. I’ll be able to safely venture outdoors unmasked and skip post-exposure quarantines. I’ll be able to schmooze with other immunized people indoors—perhaps even travel across state lines to visit family members I haven’t hugged since last spring.
In a matter of weeks, social life as I know it will crack open. And a pretty big part of me is flat-out terrified of what lies within that widening maw.
The world is a long way from vaccinating most of the human population. But here in the United States, nearly a third of Americans have gotten the COVID-19 shots they need for full immunity; we have three safe and effective vaccines, and in the coming months, more will join them. With inoculation comes a ballooning list of perks. But after a year underground, many people, myself very much included, are hesitant to shed their solitude and reestablish the norms we so staunchly swore off.
As enthused as I am about immunity and vaccines, I’ve found some degree of comfort in my COVID cave. I have spent months confirming that what occurs within its boundaries is very, very low-risk, and I’m not terribly desperate to crawl back into the sunlight. Part of the reason is that I am, as my colleague Joe Pinsker calls it, Team Couch, and naturally gravitate toward a social life that stays in the slow lane. But I also dread the behavioral baggage packed into that tiny needle prick—a whole new set of calculations to make about risk, without a comprehensive playbook to guide me. As researchers learn more about the coronavirus and the vaccines, the rules of immune existence are changing at breakneck speed, and my emotional valence just can’t keep pace. I will soon be sludged down in a pit of post-vaccination inertia, and I expect to be mired there for weeks.