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What It's Like To Live In A Home Where Only Some People Are Vaccinated For COVID-19

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Americans who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus are still a somewhat exclusive group, which means a lot of couples and families are now divided into haves and have-nots. From member station WBUR in Boston, Martha Bebinger reports on how that's playing out.

MARTHA BEBINGER, BYLINE: Emergency room doctor Jay Schuur remembers a flood of relief, gratitude and hope that the needle going into his arm would be a turning point.

JAY SCHUUR: I teared up and cried after I got vaccinated the first time.

BEBINGER: Do you cry often?

SCHUUR: (Laughter) No.

BEBINGER: Lauraine Boccone is Schuur's wife.

LAURAINE BOCCONE: Jay getting vaccinated, for me, was the relief that my partner would live. I mean, because we weren't sure in the beginning, and for sure, that is a weight off of our shoulder.

BEBINGER: But Boccone won't be eligible for the vaccine for several months. She has asthma. Schuur says his vaccination is no guarantee he will not infect her.

SCHUUR: We know it prevents people from getting very sick and dying, and that's fabulous. We don't yet have evidence on how well it prevents infection or transmission.

BEBINGER: So until his wife gets the vaccine, Boccone and Schuur will continue wearing masks in their own home and sleeping in separate bedrooms. It's been almost a year.

SCHUUR: Part of me feels like I've been through all of this. I've been vaccinated. I should be able to let my guard down. But I could transmit it to my wife, and I don't want to do that.

BEBINGER: Schuur's two teenagers are not allowed to hang out with friends indoors. Boccone says they want more freedom now that Dad is vaccinated.

BOCCONE: It's Groundhog Day. You have to answer the teenagers again and again - like, can I do this? No, because nothing has changed.

BEBINGER: It's not just long-term couples and families who are trying to navigate this semi-vaccinated shared life. Ali Setaro and Rachel Hemond started dating in October. Here's Setaro.

ALI SETARO: I had been having dreams about, like - and then we're going to go in for the kiss. And then I would, like, wake up and sit up straight and be like, COVID.

BEBINGER: Setaro had a nasty case of COVID last March and has some immunity, but Hemond, who has diabetes, worried about what might come with that kiss. Then Hemond, who works on a coronavirus vaccine trial, got the shots. Setaro says dates started to feel a little more normal.

SETARO: Like, to be able to kiss without being like, I'm going to kill Rachel.

BEBINGER: Setaro and Hemond imagine expanding their social bubble to include more of what they call vaccine-injected people or VIPs. But Hemond says not right away.

RACHEL HEMOND: Until we know more, this VIP list is dreaming of the future.

BEBINGER: Right now, for many people, being vaccinated is largely a promise of future privileges. Becky Spoehr is a physician assistant in a hospital ER.

BECKY SPOEHR: Getting the vaccine, being among the first people to get it, feels a little bit like being the first one of your friends to turn 21.

BEBINGER: For some parents who've been vaccinated, there is a profound feeling of doing the right thing for their children.

CAROLINA AGUILAR-RESTREPO: (Speaking Spanish).

MARGARITA RESTREPO: (Speaking Spanish).

BEBINGER: Carolina Aguilar-Restrepo translates a question for her mother. Margarita Restrepo was vaccinated at the hospital where she's on the cleaning and disinfection staff.

AGUILAR-RESTREPO: She feels really good about being vaccinated, and she feels 100% protected. And she feels like with that protection, she can also protect me, her daughter.

BEBINGER: Perhaps not from infection, but Restrepo's vaccination virtually guarantees that her daughter will not suffer the pain of more than 460,000 families who've lost someone to COVID.

For NPR News, I'm Martha Bebinger in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.