I got my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine yesterday.
Vaccination eligibility had been extended by the State of Illinois for some time, but the county we live in was refusing to go along. They claimed the vaccine supply was insufficient, but that seemed odd, given that the County had comparable vaccination rates to the state as a whole. Finally, some time last week, my wife and I decided we had waited long enough.
I spent some spare time researching vaccine sources, and then on Saturday night I stayed up late, periodically checking a few different vaccine enrollment sites. The CVS site looked the most promising, and after it went offline for maintenance around 2 am, I figured that when they came back up they’d probably have appointment slots available. So I kept refreshing the screen. Over and over and over.
Finally, at about 5:30 am, the CVS site came back up, and there were appointments available. The site listed about 15 vaccination locations in Illinois, but about half of them were too far away to be practical. Furthermore, CVS was apparently still in the process of standing up vaccination programs at several of the listed stores, including the two closest stores to where I live, because they never seemed to have appointments available, no matter how often I checked. The nearest store with available appointments was in a town about 80 miles away.
(There were actually several closer openings at CVS stores in the suburbs along the southern edge of Chicago, but I knew that they were all located in or near largely black Chicago neighborhoods. No one would accuse me of being particularly woke, but my wife and I had agreed that we didn’t want to swoop in and take vaccine doses away from people who were more vulnerable than us. Not when we had a good car and work hours flexible enough for us to drive 80 miles to get vaccinated.)
Most of the available appointments were on Thursday — presumably because that was the newest day available for scheduling, but the store appeared to have had several cancellations on Monday, leaving a few slots open. I decided to start booking a Monday appointment for my wife as quickly as possible.
I had already pre-scouted the CVS sign-up process a few days earlier by signing up at another store which had some openings. (It was 300 miles away, so it wasn’t a realistic option.) I backed out at the last step, so I didn’t waste an appointment slot, but after this practice run I had all the bits of information I needed to sign up — insurance group numbers, date of birth in the proper format, and so on — sitting in a Notepad window, where I could quickly cut-and-paste them to the enrollment form.
I worked fast enough to get my wife a Monday appointment, but when I circled back to sign myself up, it was too late. All the Monday appointments had been taken. So I signed up for a Thursday afternoon appointment, and I finished quickly enough that I was also able to sign my wife up for an appointment at the same time. The next morning, after making sure my wife didn’t mind waiting a few days so we could go together, I cancelled her Monday appointment.
The drive down was nice, and much quicker than expected, so we picked up some late lunch at a nearby pizza joint, and then we returned to CVS and sat in the parking lot for a few minutes until it was time to go in.
It was kind of anti-climactic. I mean, for the last year we have been living a classic science fiction plot: Alien invaders show up and start killing people, and all seems hopeless until a bunch of clever scientists invent a way to stop them. And here we were, about to have the scientists’ invention injected into our arms. But all that happened was we waited in line a few minutes, showed a lady at the consultation window our IDs and insurance, and then sat down for a temperature check and a few more questions, and then the nurses gave us our shots. That was it. No trumpets played. There was no Chris Nolan BWAAAA on the soundtrack. We just moved to a couple of other chairs to sit out the 15-minute wait for a reaction, and then we left.
So far, other than my shoulder being slightly sore, nothing has changed. We are just as vulnerable to COVID-19 as we ever were. But in about nine days our adaptive immune systems will be making antibodies targeted for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’s unclear how well this will protect us, perhaps 50-80% against symptomatic COVID-19. After the second booster shot (coming in 3 weeks), that should rise to about 95% protection. And even if we get Covid, it shouldn’t be too serious.
This will undoubtedly improve the quality of our lives. Nevertheless, we will still want to be careful and keep wearing masks for a while. In part, that’s just to avoid alarming other people. But there’s also the problem of the new Covid variants, especially the B.1.351 variant and its genetic cousins. Our vaccinations will offer only partial protection against them, and while our vaccine-primed immune system will probably keep them from turning into a serious health problem, we could still pass the variant virus on to other people who haven’t been vaccinated yet. If that remains a risk for much longer, we may eventually have to get one of the B.1.351-specific booster shots that vaccine makers are working on.
Basically, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t really over until people stop getting COVID-19. But my wife and I are now a tiny part of a big first step toward making that happen.