Few inoculations have been more anticipated in my generation than the vaccination for COVID19. For nearly a year life in the US has been radically altered and we are just now beginning to imagine the end.
Like others I have been patiently waiting for my turn and have resolved to the fact that I would likely be amongst the last waves approved. Luckily, I am under the age cut off, do not have any of the preexisting conditions and am not a healthcare worker. Consequently, I resigned myself to wait it out while those really in need had the opportunity first.
To my surprise however I received an email from the director of my department explain that due to the nature of our work supporting the pharmaceutical industry and the necessity of us to be on campus we did qualify. The message contained a letter from the CEO detailing out status as essential and instructions from HR on how to setup an appointment. The list of approve people was short only consisting of a handful of hardware testers, mostly on my team.
My first impulse was to decline the offer differing to others more in need. I then learned that excess doses are being disposed of and after speaking to a few healthcare friends of mine was encouraged to take the opportunity while I had it. Considering my consistent connection with the houseless community and my 95-year-old neighbor I rationalized that by reducing my potential exposure I can be confident I won’t share it with others less able to protect themselves.
I set up an appointment in Johnson County at the Okun Fieldhouse a large indoor gymnasium turned clinic. Upon arrival I found a steady stream of people funneling from the massive parking lot through the front doors. Dogging the traffic and line of cars dropping people off I finally made it inside where I was greeted by smiling nurses and stressed police officers.
Many of the visitors were elderly and a large collection of wheelchairs with volunteers to man them waited off to the left. To my right I could see the freshly inoculated leaving and being routed out the side door. Once through the vestibule I could see the large open space had been sectioned off for various stages of processing. They had the flow well defined with ropes, arrows and (mostly) smiling faces directing traffic in a large clockwise fashion hugging the outside walls as we went.
The first pitstop was to the left and was to weed out folks who did not have an appointment. Upon registering I was given the opportunity to fill out the necessary paperwork and bring it with me. Naturally I seized this opportunity bring it home from work and hauling it with me right up until I needed it and leaving it on the shelf next to where I put my shoes on at home. Hearing this excuse, I understandably faced skepticism.
“Do you have the email or something that proves you are registered”? You could tell these were words she had been repeating all day every day for a while. Luckily I did and was able to validate my claim. She directed me to a stack of clipboards that was getting frequent use and had a small army of Clorox wielding folks wiping pens, the station and the clipboards with each return.
From there I was directed to a row of tables where the paperwork I just completed was checked against my ID and I was asked if I was a healthcare worker. After answering in the negative and giving a brief explanation I was asked to hold on while they verify my claim. She walked past the rows of tables with blue tablecloths to a single outlier marked in black. A conversation beyond my range of hearing ensued and paperwork was shuffled around till an apparent conclusion was reached. She returned, gave me a thumbs up and handed me a form announcing I would be getting the Pfizer vaccine today then directed me onwards keeping my previous paperwork.
To this point the flow had been pretty steady like a well-oiled machine but here I encountered a queue of roughly 20 people. There seemed to be some confusion at the front but this was quickly corrected and we were each assigned a number corresponding to one of the tables occupying the SE corner of the gym. It seemed some were allocated for administering the second dosage, but most were for first timers like myself. Each table was setup with a collection of medical equipment, paperwork, sterilization tools and plastic Sterilite tubs. Seated on the left of the table was a medical professional and a welcoming seat.
I was assigned table 11 and a polite young lady greeted me and indicated I should sit. She handed me a “Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card” and asked me which arm I would like. As I was positioned with her to my left that seemed like the obvious answer. I asked if I could take a quick video of the shot for posterity and she gave approval saying lots of folks have been doing that. In the blink of an eye she was finished and I barely felt anything. As a life long suffered of Trypanophobia (fear of needles) I was most appreciative.
The penultimate step was a row of tables between me and the exit where teams of people franticly shuffled paperwork around. I gestured for an elderly lady to go ahead of me and after waiting for a couple of minutes a confident middle-aged woman stood up from the row of tables a few feet from me and called me forward. In a calm and measured tone she recited the words she probably knew in her sleep at this point. “This is a list of potential side effects please read it over and if you experience any contact your primary care physician or seek emergency medical care if necessary. Your follow up appointment is 3 weeks from today at the same time here in the same location. We encourage you to sit <gesturing to my left> for 15 minutes before leaving to ensure you don’t experience an allergic reaction. Thank you for coming and be well.”
I was briefly stunned by her confident and deliberate tone and stared at her momentarily still processing the information. I nodded, accepted the papers and walked around the large divider to the smattering of spaced out chairs and bleachers finding a free space in the back. I made note of the time on my phone and glanced through the paperwork planning to read it in full upon my return from home. I slowly became aware of the various people all spaced 6’ apart around me. Many were individuals but there was the occasional couple or wheelchair bound person with volunteer chatting it up with one another.
I was proud to be here in this moment. I thought about the fact that humans had faced a challenge and found a way to overcome it and right in that instant I was a part of it. Not for generations has a population faced such a wide scale pandemic and we were now asked to participate in one of the largest inosculation efforts the world has ever seen. I was proud to be here and hope when given the opportunity you accept it too. I know for sure I will be back in 3 weeks time and who knows I might see you there.