Call me No. 245.
I was sitting in a room filled mostly with strangers, except for fellow reporter Steve Sharp, who had the same time slot as me. This is the moment we had all waited more than a year for: Getting the vaccine.
I want to say it was exciting, but it was as dull as waiting in line to pay property taxes or vote; you would be more glad when it was over. It was the most anti-climactic thrill I have ever had. But it was a thrill nonetheless.
We were sitting, roughly 30 of us, in a 4H building at the Jefferson County Fair Park on folding chairs carefully spaced more than 6-feet apart, waiting for someone to jab each of us with a needle.
I was impressed with how well organized this operation was, from the moment we pulled into the fairgrounds and at every interval in between, the staff was helpful, courteous and well organized, but firm about everyone staying within the rules.
After trying for weeks to get our shot, we finally got the break that brought us here. Diane Graff, another reporter in our office, had uncovered a now-vanished link that would allow health staff to not waste doses and keep the supply moving, albeit a few days earlier than when the additional supply of the COVID-19 vaccine would be available for people like me. I have hypertension, so I was able to meet the criteria.
As much as I had looked forward to this moment, I still had a spooky sense of dread. I can’t explain it, but the paranoid part of my brain emerged ever so briefly as we all waited like lemmings to get our shots. Is this what it felt like at a concentration camp, I wondered? Of course, it was nothing like that. These people were truly here to make all of us better; my mind quickly sent Mr. Paranoid back into his hole in my brain and I continued patiently waiting without panic.
There was a brief delay when seven of the 12 people giving shots were taken out of commission, because they were students and their instructor had been called away briefly for some unexplained reason, and as a result students were not allowed to administer the vaccines without proper supervision. But after about 15 minutes or so, that pause ended and the orderly pace of the operation resumed.
We moved from station to station, where we were vetted to make sure we met the guidelines and would not be susceptible to allergic reactions.
At one point, I met Stacey, who could not have been more helpful in making sure I knew what I was getting in for. I was bummed that I would be getting the slightly less effective Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but she assured me of its efficacy. The fact that I only needed a single shot to be fully immunized was a nice plus.
Finally after snaking my way through the line, I arrived at Sue, a retired registered nurse who came back to continue her passion as a public-health professional in one of the worst health-care crises of her lifetime. I was reassured to have a kind and competent professional having her way with my upper arm. As a journalists, I always have a lot of questions and Sue, like the other staffers before them, patiently and knowledgeably answered them all.
The jab was not unlike a flu shot, maybe a fraction longer. Afterward, I went to the recovery area for a self-timed 15 minutes to make sure I was not having an anaphylactic reaction. There I rejoined Steve and we both talked about how glad we were to finally get this done, and how impressed we were with how this operation was run.
The worst part of the whole event was dodging potholes in the unpaved area as we drove off the fairgrounds.
I texted my wife to relay the good news, and as I drove back to the office I wanted to roll down the window and shout with a fist pump: Wooohoo!
But in keeping with the clinical deportment of the vaccine-administering facility, I showed no emotion and just drove back to the office with a song in my heart but just the cold look of professionalism on my face.
It would take another two weeks for this vaccine to be fully effective, but I had waited a year — a short time by vaccine development standards, but a seeming eternity by human-tolerance measurement — for the day to come. Three people in our office had had COVID and I felt fortunate that I had made it this far unscathed, and that mask-wearing had paid off. I felt like I had just run the marathon and was happy just to make it this far.
And for the record, I had no ill effects. Even my shoulder was barely sore afterward.
Pandemic, you’re not quite vanquished yet, but it’s all over but the shouting. Quiet, controlled shouting, of course.
Yours truly, No. 245.