By Sakinah Irizarry
When I got the call in early January, I felt as lucky as finding cash you left in your winter coat pocket from last season. Later, it would feel as though I won the lottery.
“We are just calling to notify you we have received the Moderna vaccine, and we’re looking to extend an appointment for a vaccination if you’re interested . . . ”
I incredulously held the phone away from my face to confirm the number that was calling.
“Are you kidding me? YES.”
Open and Shut
I’m a reasonably risk-averse person. In March 2020, when COVID-19 cases were reported in the city nearest my home and practice, I closed my office and pulled my children from school before state shutdowns were mandated.
My emergency fund and a wonderfully flexible landlord made it possible for me to hold onto my office space. I returned to practice with the utmost caution, weeks after it was permitted in my state. I relied on tools that met or exceeded my state’s guidelines, such as ABMP’s Back to Practice guide and Healwell’s Back to Practice online courses. I leaned heavily into my network of fellow practitioners for advice and support within the Massage Business Blueprint community.
Cautiously, I began working with a handful of clients, just enough to meet expenses. Autumn and winter arrived, and with it came the inevitable indoor socializing and gathering. Area infection rates doubled, then tripled what they had been during state shutdown; frustrated, I paused my practice again.
I had followed the news about vaccines receiving US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization for emergency use but had not given much thought to what I would personally do when it became available. I got familiar with the science of the mRNA vaccination mechanism. I combed through Twitter feeds and blog posts of physicians and public health officials, all dedicated to health equity, all lining up to get vaccinated. It was available in New York, but I hesitated to seek my own eligibility status.
Surely there are people more at risk than me, I thought. Surely there are people more in need than me. Surely there are people more deserving than me.
Despite the knowledge that Black people were being infected and dying at rates three times more than white people, this mindset persisted. A frank conversation with trusted colleagues gave me the push I needed to check my state’s website for eligibility. To my surprise, I qualified to receive the vaccine within the first tier of health professionals.
In the state of New York, massage therapists are licensed as health-care professionals. The same New York Office of the Professions that provides my license does so for a wide range of health-care providers, including nurses, physicians, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, etc.
Any health-care worker providing direct, in-person patient care was eligible for vaccination. If that wasn’t clear enough, any consumer-directed personal care worker was listed as eligible as well. I submitted my information and waited. It was only a three-day wait before I got that phone call; four days later, I got my first dose of the vaccine.
I’ll admit, there were tears once I was in the privacy of my car, a delayed emotional release after I’d waited the 15 minutes of observation, and 10 months since I’d first closed my practice and isolated my family. There were no side effects that time. After the second dose approximately a month later, I was simply relieved. That shot triggered some mild side effects—a small price to pay for a measure of peace.
What the Vaccine Means to Me
What does the vaccine mean to me? It means less anxiety about bringing home this virus to my partner (who works from home) and my two boys (who attend school remotely).
It means I can worry a little less about being a vector, at risk of spreading COVID-19 to my clients and my larger community.
It means I can save my practice, a goal I’d worked so hard to achieve ever since deciding to go to massage school two months after being in New York City on 9/11.
It does not mean I scale back on any of my safety protocols.
It means I have a little less worry about being on the receiving end of the disparate access to, and application of, health care because of my skin color, since being Black in America threatens to make us into statistics in every measurable way every day. #BlackLivesMatter
It means I believe in science.
It means I am aware of the painful history and unconscionable present of how Black bodies are treated far too often in medicine.
It means I combat misinformation that seeks to keep my community at risk and unprotected, and I share information from verifiable sources.
It means I continue to educate myself and others about racial health disparities, and to agitate for health-care equity for the disenfranchised, the vulnerable, and the forgotten.
It means I have work to do. And, so do you.
Sakinah Irizarry (she/her) has been a licensed massage therapist since 2003. She resides with her family in Saugerties, New York, where she also enjoys a thriving private practice. She’s a passionate advocate for educational equity and social justice in all spaces. You can find more of Sakinah’s work as a co-instructor for the class “Challenging Racism in the Massage Industry” produced by Healwell or at www.sakinahirizarrylmt.com. In her free time, she enjoys watching Star Trek, camping with friends and family, and showing love through empanadas.