As the COVID-19 vaccine rolled out over the country, I knew that I would not be in the first group eligible to receive it. Max was, but I am almost a decade younger than he is. I also knew, based on the stories all my friends were telling, that getting a spot in the vaccine lottery was a crap shoot. I had friends who waited hours in line only to be told that there was no more vaccines availability that day. I had friends who wandered from vaccine center to vaccine center, like Mary and Joseph looking for room at the inn. I was lucky in that I was able to get Max an appointment online for both his vaccine doses at the same time. It meant having to drive 35 miles each way to the next county for both doses, but it was worth it.
There were several problems with the vaccine distribution in the beginning. First, the vaccine became available the week between Christmas and New Year’s. That is kind of a recipe for administrative disaster in and of itself. No one, of course, would even consider holding off the vaccine distributions for a week. We had been waiting so long that everyone was committed to slogging through whatever process management sludge existed to begin getting shots in arms.
The state of Florida probably should have had a better system in place when the vaccines started arriving. I believe that there was a lot of preparation and decision-making about how to handle the distribution, especially about establishing priorities. We all knew who was going to be first up to bat. I even believe there was a lot of planning as to logistics, but that planning was not “just in time.” Because no one knew how many vaccines were coming when, no one could really staff and open the vaccine appointment phone lines and vaccine centers immediately when the vaccines crossed state lines. Therefore, when vaccines arrived and authorities rushed to get people immunized, there was no clear process in place yet. Other than the parameters set up for the “who’s first?” decision, everything else was pretty random. I think we could have done a better job of setting up the infrastructure so that when it was “go time,” the grab ‘em and stab ‘em processes could start functioning immediately. Someone should have been building a web-based appointment scheduling system as quickly as someone was working on a vaccine.
I will say that I was impressed with the immediacy with which Florida jumped into the jabbing. It was certainly confusing and frustrating and upsetting to all the people playing musical vaccine centers in the beginning, but Florida clearly prioritized getting the job done even if it the process was ugly. Also, the people staffing the sites have been consistently amazing. Everyone I know sings the praises of every person with whom they interacted. When we went to get Max’s vaccines, the atmosphere was far from harried or stressful. Despite all the bruhaha involved in the scheduling process, the workers seemed unflappable, friendly, and calm. In fact, there was almost a party vibe in the auditorium.
Finally, as vaccine supplies stabilized and distribution increased, it was time for me to schedule my immunization. I had registered to “save my place in line” when that option first became available, long before I was eligible for a shot. I never thought that would work. However, as soon as my number came up, I was able to go online and schedule an appointment in a location about 8 miles from our house. I also received several calls from the nice people at the Florida Health Department to make sure I had an appointment. I was somewhat concerned because the system only permitted an appointment for my first dose, but the fact that the contact system seemed to work heartened me.
When the day came for my first shot, I marched into the abandoned Sears building and proffered my arm as a target. I have been saying all along that I was not particularly worried about getting the novel coronavirus myself. My fears were more social than personal health oriented. Weirdly, though, when the needle went into my arm for that first shot, I had a huge feeling of lightness and relief. I don’t know if I was more scared than I thought I was. It was probably just a relief that there was this very tangible sign that the world’s focus is taking a detour off the highway to “survival mode” and exiting via the offramp to “normal life.” Whatever it was, it has been a rougher year on my psyche than I knew. Experiencing the vaccine process was such a clear glimpse of a path forward, it gave me a lot of joy. We are not “there” yet when it comes to “normal life,” but the vaccine showed us that there is a way to get “there.” I just hoped that the system would work, and I would be able to get an appointment for dose two without significant Divine intervention.
A day or so after my first shot, I had a mild reaction. I was lethargic and tired. My arm hurt. I never had a real fever. My temperature typically runs low, and it did go up a couple of degrees. It was so not a big deal. I only mention it because it was noticeable. The reaction stopped within 36 hours.
The contact system worked, and I got a call for my second dose a few days before it was due. I made an appointment and confidently scooted down to the abandoned Sears. I was anticipating some sort of reaction because I heard the second dose was usually worse than the first and I did have SOME reaction to the first.
After the second dose, which did seem to sting a bit more going in than the first one, I sat in the waiting area waiting to explode for the requisite fifteen minutes. During that fifteen minutes, I congratulated myself for completing the process. My goal had been to get both doses before our planned trip to Williamsburg on April 17. I met my goal. Even though I was not going to have my full two-week incubation period after the second shot, I felt comfortable that I was well protected before getting on the airplane. Mostly, I was just glad that I was done and wouldn’t have to play “Stalk the Vaccine” anymore. When I did not spontaneously combust after the requisite fifteen minutes, I walked out of the vaccine stockade with a smug spring in my step.
It turns out…. I was not done. Not by a longshot. An hour or so after dose two, I began to feel the familiar tiredness. I could barely keep my head upright. My neck seemed to be liquifying. My arm was killing me. I went home and tried icing my arm, which did not seem to help much. I also kept ingesting water like it was going to stop coming out of the tap. As the day progressed, I began to feel crummier, but I had expected the reaction. I was not alarmed. I just went to bed early, believing I would feel better in the morning.
And I did. When I got up the next day, I did not feel great, but I did feel better. I felt more tenderness and sensitivity than actual pain. At first. By midday, I was officially trashed. Every place on body that could hurt did hurt- every bone, every muscle, every joint, every molecule. I tried to stay as still as I possibly could because moving in any way caused shooting pains somewhere. I also had a massive headache. Any cognitive ability I ever had was long gone. I mostly sat wrapped in an afghan in a recliner and stared stupidly into space. My arm hurt, but that was almost a non-issue, given that I hurt EVERYWHERE. Still, when Max felt my shot arm and then felt my other arm, it was abundantly clear that shot arm was living in a different climate than the other one. The injection site was hot to the touch. When evening came, I checked my temperature. I had a fever of 101 degrees, which is about four degrees above my normal temperature.
The next morning, it was like a miracle. I still had some vague achiness, and my arm was still protesting loudly, but I felt so much better. I still cannot say I am completely done, as my arm still hurts from time to time, three weeks later. I know I am getting there, though.
They say that reactions mean that the vaccine is working properly. I must have some exceptionally talented immunity builders in my physiology. I am certain I have some pretty kick-ass antibodies running around my bloodstream about now!
Have you received your COVID vaccine yet? If not, why not? If so, what kind of reaction did you have? My reaction was unpleasant, but certainly less unpleasant than getting COVID. It does feel great to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem!
Have an immune day!