January 20, 2021
Last Friday I was jabbed with the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. My appointment for the second dose is in four weeks, after which I will be as fully protected as anyone can be. Thus armed, literally and figuratively, for travel. And, boy, am I ready for travel! Only trouble is, I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Vaccinations come with a CDC card as my documented proof. Bring inoculated, however, doesn’t dismiss my responsibility to be tested for the novel coronavirus both going and returning from my upcoming (and still uncertain) May trip to the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Not in an “essential worker” category and at 72 with no major pre-existing conditions, I didn’t originally fall into a group likely to get the shot until much later in the year. The moment I read last week’s new CDC recommendation that the age limit be lowered to 65, though, I began to look for appointments.
GETTING AN APPOINTMENT
Here in North Carolina the state’s major healthcare providers are among the authorized agencies in the vaccine supply chain. That includes biggies like UNC Healthcare and Duke Healthcare, both with statewide medical offices, clinics, and hospitals. While I was fortunate in my dogged persistence to get an appointment through the UNC Healthcare channel, splitting the distribution is not inherently efficient. Yet America’s lack of a central medical database for all citizens like France has works against us in this instance.
Persistence was the absolute key to getting an appointment, as the online scheduling is maddening. It was like whack-a-mole. Every time I grabbed a place, time, and date shown (many a lot more distant than Chapel Hill), it would be gone before I could confirm it. I had to keep trying again and again and again. It reminded me of travel portals that promise ridiculously cheap fares to the place and on the date you want, but then aren’t there when you click on them.
It was hard at first not to be discouraged when I frequently got the message “no more appointments available” but in repetition I learned that changed within seconds. So, like angling for super-low airfares, I just kept trying. New appointments were posted constantly, and eventually the system confirmed one I clicked on. Although not until I’d been trying for nearly ninety minutes.
GETTING THE SHOT
My appointment was at one of the big Covid vaccination clinics set up by UNC Healthcare: the UNC Friday Center in Chapel Hill, 25 miles and a half hour drive from my house. On arrival, I was impressed that the process was very efficient, friendly, and highly professional. I was in and out in 55 minutes.
First, a health check to get in the door, including answering the usual screening questions. Then the first of two check-ins in a short queue.
My identity and insurance details were verified, and a copy was made of my driver’s license. Then I was handed printouts of the official order to get the vaccine as well as a follow-up appointment confirmation and several pages of information to study. I was directed to one of two lines to wait my turn, one for the Pfizer vaccine, and the other for the Moderna version. Apparently, the assignments were random.
I received the Moderna vaccine (first dose) and will get the second dose in exactly four weeks at the same place. Had I gotten the Pfizer injection, the second dose would have been scheduled for three weeks later.
Had a fine chat with the second year UNC Physician’s Assistant student spearing my arm, and she was happy to let me take a selfie as she plunged in the needle. It felt thick and viscous going into the muscle. Not enough to make me wince, though.
That’s when I was given the CDC card, which will be updated with another sticker when I go back for the second dose. I was then led to a large room to sit for 15 minutes of “observation” to be sure I didn’t have an immediate adverse reaction. When the time was up, I was called up to verify my second appointment in four weeks. As I said, very fast and efficient. I was out of there 55 minutes after entering.
The young PA student had advised of the possibility of whole body soreness and fever lasting for several hours up to two days. She said it was a normal possible reaction. However, I suffered no side effects except for soreness in my arm. That night I did experience what my grandmother used to call a “sinking spell” during which I suddenly had no energy for about an hour. But that passed quickly, and the next morning I felt great.
Now that I’ve had it I should be exulting, but instead, the experience brought on unexpected sad feelings. Especially “survivor guilt” as one of just 4.4% of North Carolinians so far vaccinated. And because I can’t get appointments for my wife (who is under 65) or teenage daughter. I feel bad, too, for friends my age and older who haven’t been able to get the shot, some of whom have been searching since before I began my quest. Suddenly I understand a little of what those in lifeboats must have felt watching the Titanic go under: Guilt eclipses relief.
I began to look into what’s slowing down vaccinations. Like everyone who follows the news, I was aware of the chaotic way in which vaccines have been made available nationwide. With no standardized federal vaccine guidelines promulgated by the outgoing administration, combined with the lack of a centralized medical database for all Americans such as Israel’s, distribution was dumped on the fifty state governors to figure out. Now each state struggles to do things the way they think right, resulting in confusion and inefficiency getting vaccines into arms. After all, governors know how to govern, but are not skilled at organizing and executing the tasks required of large, complex projects, like inoculating 33 million Americans.
So it’s a mess, made worse by not enough vaccine to meet demand. Friends in other states send stories of vaccination dissemination methods different from each other and from North Carolina. Minnesota seems to have far fewer doses of the two vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) than planned. Factual or not, I know not, but even Republican friends in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Washington complain that chronic shortages of original shipments correlate to being blue states. In Arizona, colleagues report having to accept 4:30 AM appointments for the initial dose after days of repeatedly trying to grab an appointment—only to be told after receiving the shot that they have to go through the same hectic fight to get an appointment for the second dose. In Texas and Florida, octogenarians are forced to line up for 12 hours or more in their cars with no guarantee that doses won’t run out before it’s their turn. Louisiana friends brag of their state’s solid plan of action and good delivery system, with appointments met and second dose appointments made as well. Hawaiian friends say their system is similar to the endless loop I went through trolling for an appointment.
My post-inoculation spirits are blended, equal parts happiness and guilt. I certainly am glad to be vaccinated, but in fairness, all Americans deserve to be.
Now if I just had some place to go so I could assuage my guilt.