Post-Vaccine Norms: Who Makes the Rules?


Catherine Chan, Staff Writer

Over the past year, we have all experienced unavoidable conversations about how seriously to take the pandemic—the ones where we decided whether or not to skip the big spring break party in order to avoid spreading COVID-19 to our families. Unsurprisingly, interpretations of public health guidelines have often become largely influenced by our personal proclivities. For some of my friends, who valued their social life more than their own health, their pandemic ended once summer began. Others remain cautious today rather than spending their weekends as if it were 2019. 

At a certain point, we all began making our own decisions regarding how closely to follow COVID-19 precautions. We’ve created our own cultures of what social behaviors are acceptable—cultures determined by geography, politics, and socioeconomic status, among other factors. Because of this, the debate of personal preference vs. public safety has found substantial footing in the pandemic. At the beginning of quarantine, some people stayed inside to mitigate the spread, while others ventured out in makeshift masks composed of a bandana and two hair elastics. Over the summer, the same conflicting viewpoints arose when it came to indoor vs. outdoor dining. 

At the center of shifting public precautions resides the big question: who will be the arbitrator of these new social mandates? Despite national guidelines, it has become abundantly clear that there is no overarching authority that can force businesses and individuals to follow them. The arbitrator is ultimately ourselves, so we must do our best to put aside our personal preferences for the greater goal of public safety.

Now that many Americans are beginning to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the idea of re-entering a world of pseudo-normalcy isn’t too far-fetched. My mother, who works in a medical setting, was among the first in the United States to receive the vaccine. With this newfound privilege, many people’s gatherings have grown in size, and their outings have become more varied in terms of distance and activity. 

The decisions we make as the vaccine rollout progresses ultimately come down to our prerogatives. Not only is safety a priority, remaining considerate of those around us is, too. While it is not our moral obligation to keep others in check and ensure that they follow the rules, we can choose to follow national safety guidelines ourselves. In the end, the scales will balance out: if we continue to be cautious and responsible, our actions as safe citizens will balance out those of negligent bystanders. 

As the vaccine becomes more widely available and the world re-enters some kind of normalcy, maskless gatherings, various travel methods, and in-person education will resume, although other things will look different from before. Though it is helpful to consider all of the possibilities, we will never know how the COVID-19 vaccine will affect our global community until we see it in action. We can, however, remain vigilant in how we go about our daily lives.


Graphic courtesy of DOMO.COM