My COVID Times Diary: Dystopian vaccination under a full moon
Near the end of 2020 the FDA approved two COVID 19 vaccines for use in the United States. Bold proclamations, primarily for political gain, were made about amazingly quickly people would be getting vaccinated including 20 million fully vaccinated by the end of 2020. Given that, that meant two vaccinations received, four weeks apart for twenty million people. It really meant that we needed to be, right out of the gate, vaccinating over a million people a day. Knowing at least a little bit about logistics, I really had doubts that something like that was even possible at the very beginning of vaccine distribution. And of course as we now know, I was right.
From there the whole vaccine process seemed completely jumbled and disjointed. While the CDC guidance was to start with frontline healthcare workers and that was happily well followed as it should have been. However from there, each county in each state basically followed it’s own plan, which to say at the very least has been confusing. Of course the first thing that has happened is that America has been America. There have been plenty of stories about people giving vaccines to friends and families who didn’t meet the current criteria. There was even a health carrier busted for creating a vaccine VIP distribution list. I doubt anyone who has grown up in America is surprised by this or by stories like people in well-off Marin County California utilizing priority access codes meant for low income communities so that vaccine distribution would be more equitable.
So, I watched as people I knew, younger people, completely healthy people got vaccines while older people with underlying conditions like myself struggled to even find out how to get access to even potential vaccination dates. Happily things have been improving, frontline and essential workers seem to be getting vaccinated fairly easily. President Biden set a goal of getting one hundred million Americans vaccinated in his first one hundred days and seems to be on track.
I’ve also started seeing some success for people who have qualified, just this week a an older friend in Tennessee, after a number of phone call and website adventures finally booked a date to get vaccinated. My brother, who has an underlying condition got notified that he has now qualified to schedule an appointment. It’s still not perfect, while most of the people in one of the departments I manage have gotten vaccinated or have set appointments, the oldest member of the department has had no luck. This does point to some of the randomness that still exists in the system. The good news of course is that things are getting better and now a third vaccine, one from Johnson and Johnson has been approved by the FDA.
For a change, the randomness bounced my way this week. After a staff member told me that they’d gotten an appointment notification through California’s state system, https://myturn.ca.gov . So I jumped on my cellphone and went to the site, put my information in and was told immediately that I didn’t qualify. It then asked if I wanted to input my information to get future information and being frustrated I just moved on. Later that night, I decided that in fact I should put my information in so that I would get notified if an appointment opened up. So I jumped on the site while on my laptop and when I put in my information, boom, it offered me an appointment and not just one. I had multiple options over a five day window including the next day. So I logged my first appointment. Now I’ve heard of people getting a first, but finding no available second dates available which means you can’t get vaccinated. But I was fortunate, there were multiple second dates available as well, so I quickly put in my information, answered the health questions and boom, I had my appointments. I will admit to at that moment feeling a bit elated. I think it’s the idea that some semblance of a normal life is a little bit closer, that I’m less likely to die from contracting COVID if I do, and one step closer to being able to go to NY and wrap my arms around my littlest niece who doesn’t yet know me in person.
I do want to mention one thing about the vaccines currently out. I had a staff member tell me that they were hesitant to get vaccinated because they didn’t want the virus injected in their body. To be clear, none of the current vaccines approved in the United States contain live or even dead coronavirus. They all employ technology that uses the genetic design of coronavirus to fool the body into manufacturing antibodies against the disease. What is injected in your body is not capable of giving you COVID 19.
So on Friday afternoon I set out for the Oakland Coliseum which is the location that I was assigned by the website. The website does something cool, if there aren’t available sites in your county, it will check the neighboring counties. So in my case, San Mateo county will not start vaccinating educators until this Monday, however Alameda county is, so I was sent to the mass vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum. A bit of normalcy that this involved, with a 5:40PM on a Friday appointment, was of course Bay Area traffic. Friday afternoon is typically the worse time to be driving anywhere in the Bay Area. The evening before checking drive times, it said 37 minutes to the coliseum. On Friday afternoon that time was 1 hour and 7 minutes. So of course I gave myself an hour and 40 minutes to get there. Once I rolled up to the exit for the Coliseum traffic was at a standstill. I made the coliseum in a little over and hour and it took over 20 minutes to do the last 0.3 miles to the entrance.
Getting into the lot, things suddenly seemed very dystopian. The sight in front of you is lines of cars winding around the lot in giant Disney-like waiting lines. Interspersed around the lot are people in military fatigues, FEMA and CalOES uniforms and vests. Off in the distance you can see the pavilions where the actually vaccinations happens with generator driven floodlights everywhere. There is a field of emergency cones in every direction, portapotties, and as you come in you see RV’s from every emergency agency you can think of. It felt very much like the scenes in movies like Contagion where the military had arrived and set up quarantine camps. For the first time since last March, when I walked around empty streets with closed stores, no one on the streets and closed restaurants and shops, I once again felt like I was experiencing a bit of a Dystopian nightmare, except this time juxtaposed with a dose of hope.
A Calfire worker asked me my health questions and then another injected me. The system was very efficient, the whole drive around, multiple ID checks and injection took about 15 minutes. Another 15 minutes to wait to see if you had a reaction, I was checked on several times and then you drove on out. You never had to leave your car, it was great. I was injected with the Pfizer vaccine and given my appointment card for my second appointment. I’m writing this the day after the vaccination, that afternoon I definitely felt some pain around the injection site, it was stiffer this morning and I had a bit of a headache. By this evening the site of the shot is still a bit tender but I’m feeling back to normal. As I was in my timeout waiting to be released I could see a beautiful full moon in the distance. Hopefully this experience is the beginning of the end of our dystopian pandemic experience and also the beginning of returning to relative normal. Good luck in getting vaccinated yourselves my friend.