Getting my first COVID vaccination shot: good news, bad news

On Sunday I received my first COVID-19 vaccination.

I’d like to describe the story here.  That’s partly to demystify the experience for anyone who might be skeptical of the shot. And perhaps this is a bit of useful documentation for the historical record.  There are very good and very bad parts to the story.

tl;dr version – I successfully got vaccinated.  Far too many people are not.

So I really lucked into this. Our county and state set up a registration system, which slotted me into 1b.  Being a university worker and having two comorbidities seemed to be key. I also bugged one local medical provider until they grudgingly added me to their list of people to jab with extra vaccines.  And this worked!  Apparently Prince William County wrangled a hefty vaccine stash.  I was originally scheduled for a shot later in February, but the county authorities rescheduled for Sunday.  So I packed up my face mask and phone and drove over to a local public high school.

The site was crowded with cars, and also clearly marked with “COVID VACCINATIONS HERE” signs.  Arrows pointed inside, as did a flow of people. At the door a masked staff member greeted me, asking about my appointment, then sending me to the end of a line.

Which turned out to be a very, very long line. It ran past multiple offices and rows of lockers, wrapping around two corners. Everyone I passed was masked and tended to maintain social distance. A quick check of demographics: evenly balanced by gender; more white than black or Latinx.

vaccination 2021 Feb_line

The line moved quickly. A helpful fellow passed out plastic folding chairs for fatigued folks. Another staffer cheered us up with stories of the oldest people there today (99, and another who claimed WWII veteran status) and assuring us that things were speedy.  Which they were.  I read a Kindle book as I stepped ahead.

I also asked the cheerful staffer about the operation. She described it as a partnership between the public school district, including school nurses, and one local clinic network.  She also confirmed that they were giving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

About 15 minutes in I hit the check-in stations.

vaccination 2021 Feb_getting into system

Staff asked for my ID and determined that I was at the right place and time, then sent me straight down another hall.

This led to a gigantic gym, where the vaccinations were actually happening.  Stations dotted the front half, each crewed by a pair of people.

vaccination 2021 Feb_stations

A guide immediately sent me to station 16, which was ready for me. I asked the two staff members if I could photograph them. One was somewhat horrified at the thought, but the other thought it was ok if I took a selfie while getting the jab, which is exactly what happened:

vaccination 2021 Feb_me getting jabbed

The injection was unusually light.  It must have been a very thin needle. I barely felt it going in and exiting.

The station pair then sent me to the other end of the gym, which was filled with socially distanced chairs.  There I had to pick one, sit, and wait 15 minutes to check for any allergic reaction to the shot.

vaccination 2021 Feb_seats

This was quite pleasant. A friendly nurse gave me more information, including a handout, and pointed me to free water and snacks. I partook, then sat and read for the rest of my time.

When that elapsed, I walked to a checkout station next to the gym’s main exit. They verified my information and gave me a proof of vaccination card, solemnly abjuring me to not lose the thing. (I’m not sharing a photo of it, in case some clever person figures out how to abuse it.) The staff person also told me to check email for 1) a digital version of the card, and 2) registration for the second shot in a week or so. They recommended I take it easy at home in case my arm hurt.

And that was it. I walked out to the car and drove home. My arm was a little sore, so I put off my daily pull-ups and watched a Netflix movie.  The first email arrived, and I’m waiting for the second.

Overall, I was very impressed by the operation.  There were a few glitches around social distancing – the door greeter got way too close to people, and there wasn’t much of an effort to keep people from walking near other folks. Otherwise the whole procedure was very speedy. Staff were friendly, informative, and helpful. Most importantly, I now have a vaccine in my body, training my immune system to fight COVID-19.

Let me balance that story with its opposite. I shared some of these images and the gist on Twitter and Facebook, hoping that it would inspire people to sign up for shots. Instead the responses that actually came back ranged from frustrated to hurt, as friends and other people described the seething chaos that is the American vaccination process.

From California to New York, Texas to Michigan, Utah to Pennsylvania came stories of delays and cancellations, supplies running out, and bureaucratic obstacles. As per the American public health strategy most of the decision making took place at the state and local level, which now drives what can most charitably be called a patchwork of different policies, practices, and outcomes. Some states have K-12 teachers as high priorities, while others do not. Some rank in-person workers highly, while others don’t mention them. The groups that actually conduct the shots range from giant pharma chains to local shops, county health authorities to independent clinics. Sometimes universities play a role.

Again and again I heard rage, despair, and resignation as people described not getting access to vaccinations this month, or in spring, or even in summer.

Meanwhile I try to help my father. He’s almost 90 and normally inhabits an assisted living facility in southeast Michigan, but is now in a rehab unit for an unrelated medical problem.  Given his age, his gender, and a raft of co-morbidities I won’t mention here he should be a primary subject for vaccination.  He is not.  He has no appointment and no idea how to get one. He is deeply vulnerable to COVID infection, damage, and death and as far as we can tell has no chance for a vaccine in the near term.

I’ll have more to say about this later on, but for now it looks like America is handling the vaccines… unevenly?  Consider these CDC stats: 27,417,468 cases and 482,536.  The scientific consensus is that these are undercounts. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say we’re badly screwing up an amazing scientific development and failing to fight the pandemic seriously.

My thanks to the local system for giving me some hope. My heart goes out to the rest of the nation.  We must do better.

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5 Responses to Getting my first COVID vaccination shot: good news, bad news

  1. Roger says:

    I agree that the US is handling the situation… unevenly. At the same time, to compare us to the EU and its member states, there is simply no comparison. Americans are getting vaccinated en masse and the forecast is that all in the US who want a vaccine will be able to have one by July. This is slower than it should be, to be sure, and with troubling inequities in its rollout, as the example of your dad illustrates, but still it is fast progress comparatively speaking. I’m glad you’ve been vaccinated!

  2. I had a similar experience, with the important difference that I “bugged” nobody. I am not sure what you meant by that.

    I tell this in the same spirit as your blog. I registered at the Alexandria Health Department from whom I have since heard only that I’m on line as 1b (maybe). But I belong to an HMO, Kaiser; as you know, Bryan HMOs get a bad press in this money-driven capitalist medicine press of ours. I never contacted anyone but a few Fridays ago I was contacted by Kaiser: as a 74 year old with 2 (serious) co-morbidities, I was told to chose an appt from several days and across times. I did, and when I showed up, the first floor of the whole place (Falls Church Kaiser building) was ready for me — an everyone else there. The whole process took less than half an hour. I got a print-out and brochure which explained to me Pfizer & Moderna. I had been vaccinated with Pfizer. I return this Friday for my second dose.

    By contrast I read in the Washington Post, that while early this year Pennsylvania (or some part of it) had agreed to set up public clinics in huge community centers and had begun to vaccinate for free, these were closed down when Philly COVID something or other (clinics), a profit-making organization offered to take over the job. Since then appts all cancelled and new ones have to set up. A sliding scale of prices. People calling to jump the line, a larger proportion of whites than blacks. I could not tell if the capitalist group had gotten to take over the spaces the original group took. The story was deliberately blurred, confusing and it was hard to tell who was blamed for incompetence. It seems also a greater number of whites vaccinated than in proportion to their percentage in the state. Capitalism & racism strike again.

    I’ve friends who tell me of frantic (I’d call it) networking phone calls – how demeaning, how ugly, and paying for this kind of time-consuming experience — in states like Arkansas they are told to put themselves on line for several pharmacies. Thus creating confusion. And how to get to these places in a state not known for its public transportation.

    Why do Americans stand for this?

  3. Thanks for sharing this. That’s interesting about your father, especially. My mom, 86, is in Goodwin House, an independent living community in Alexandria (a giant fancy dorm for old people, basically) and she got her second jab the other day, along with basically everyone else in the place. She didn’t have to figure out anything, they just let her know when the vaccination clinics would be and she just showed up.

    I’m phase 1B in Prince William County too, but haven’t heard anything from them. I suppose I’m further down the list than you?

  4. Rebecca says:

    Americans don’t want to pay for, well, anything, which is the root of most of our problems (decaying infrastructure, underfunded schools at all levels, negligible public health infrastructure).

    I have a theory (likely not original but I haven’t seen anyone else talk much about it. It goes like this:

    Give an American a good idea and we will take it to the furthest, most inane possible extreme available.

    Rugged individualism turns into selfishness above all else which turns into dingbats who won’t wear a mask. Capitalism becomes shareholder capitalism which strips the planet and poisons’ people in the search for ever more profit. “Cutting taxes” turns into letting all of the communal services and infrastructure waste away.

    We don’t have a culture of moderation about anything. We appear to have taken the puritan concept that failure in any way is a moral failing to heart, embedded it in how we think about everything, and used it to turn systemic poverty, illness and loneliness into failings on the part of the suffering individual. Unfortunately, we are taking the planet down with us. (Sorry – pretty down mood today.)

    Anyway, I got my 2nd shot last monday. Even if you don’t have any reaction to this first shot, I would plan on a light day after the 2nd. I had no reaction at all to my first shot, but the 2nd one made me fuzzy-brained for most of the day after, including about 3 hours when I felt a little feverish and had to go lay down. Then it was over.

    There are infinite stories of people getting the shot who could have waited (raises hand) and those not getting it that need it (your dad). However a lot of this is related to location – some locations seem to be handling distribution smoothly, others are a complete mess, and there is an awful lot of overlap. My experience was easy and painless, but others even in my city are struggling with miscommunication, confusion as to what they can do when, and supply issues.

  5. Leigh says:

    Glad to read your first-hand report and that you have found this first vaccination in your arm. Wishing you well and hoping you can share your wisdom to expedite this process for those who need champions to lead the way.

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