Adventures in New York, getting my COVID vaccine

Like most Americans, I have felt quite removed from the vaccination process.  At the beginning of the year, I believed the summer would be my earliest possible vaccine date, and realistically (or just to not get my hopes up) perhaps not until the fall.  At 64, I told our kids that I was too old to be young and too young to be old.  In any event, I did not want to be stepping in front of the elderly and those at risk. 

Then came the reports of friends getting vaccinated.  Pleased for them, of course.  But it also made my hypothetical date seem real and, by comparison, very far off.  Still, nothing to be done.

In February, New York announced that it would expand the guidelines to those under 65 with risk conditions, one of which applied to me.  Even so, I would say this led me to participate in the process in a distinctly lazy manner.  I learned to type in the correct New York State on-line site.  When day after day the report came back, “No Appointments Available Currently,” I decided it was a fool’s errand.  (Unless of course I wanted to drive seven hours to SUNY Potsdam Field House or Plattsburgh International Airport where even now it says Appointments Available.  What’s wrong with you people, don’t you want to be vaccinated?)

To be honest, I did have one thrilling moment with New York state.  The site opened up with three nearby locations in the Bronx offering appointments.  I clicked through the five-question eligibility test to get to the sign-up process, only to see the asterisk, “Restricted by Residency.”

A friend sends a vaccine link with a phone number, which for several days I contemptuously ignore.  I did not need to be scammed, on top of not getting a vaccine.  Being mortal, I weaken.  To my surprise, and disappointment, it was just the New York state vaccine hotline.  I spend thirty minutes holding for a “representative,” and was about to hang up, when on popped the cheeriest voice, apologizing for the puppy barking in the background.  You had me at "hello." 

She kindly asks about my health, we exchange a few words about dogs, and she then asks, again ever so kindly, if I would hold while she looks for an appointment, for me.  I have been elevated from browser reboot to a real person, speaking now to a personal advocate.  The five-minute wait builds up hope.  I have cracked the code.  Alas, no.  “I have checked the sites and at this time no appointments are available.”  As if sensing my deflation, or more likely with a script at hand, she warmly encourages to keep calling back, “Appointments are always opening up.  Just keep calling. You will get one.”  Thanks, coach. 

I do indeed call back thereafter, every morning, just after 8 a.m., on an early worm theory. I also learn to short-cut the prompts.  Whoever is running this program has snagged the friendliest people, but always the same answer.  No appointments, keep trying, tiger.

Then it happens.  Just as my NYS phone friends promised, I open the NY state site and there without fanfare it reads Javits Center, Appointments Available.  I click to go through.  Nothing.  The site on my phone is frozen.  Everyone jamming to get in, I think.  I start again.  Nothing.  Then, like kicking a broken TV, I am answering questions about my health, my insurance, my consent (YES!!), and then, just like that, Emerald City appears, dozens of appointments.  I hit 4:45 p.m. I am granted admission to the club.

As I enter Javits, I am prepared.  I bring out of deep storage my special KN95 mask, and for good measure, strap on another.  The much-maligned double mask.  Getting COVID while waiting in line for the vaccine, after a year in hiding, seemed sufficiently absurd that it gives me pause.  Obviously, I was not the first.  A disembodied voice let me know right away that Javits was using the latest, greatest filters.

I come prepared for long lines and disappointment.  Sorry, sir, we ran out of vaccines.  Sorry, sir, you did not bring the correct forms.  Sorry, sir, we are only offering J&J today.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Against all odds, the Javits Center vaccination process is marvelously well thought out, well-organized, and, most importantly, insanely well-staffed.  The arena is huge, but simply marked with colored lines on the ground and tactical direction from young New York National Guard troops that make you proud Americans join the military.

After showing two separate officials my entry ticket, I am ushered into a hall with hundreds of desks, each of which has a waiting intake person, protected by a glass partition and a piece of paper taped to every station, “Do not lean forward.”

My intake person is brisk, but patient as I fumble on my phone to locate the completed NYS questionnaire.  I reaffirm that I am in good health, with no flu-like symptoms, no auto-immune disease, and so forth and then after a few clicks and stares at the keyboard, she releases me to the vaccination line. 

The line looks down the length of the Javits arena, with the usual back and forth gating.  To my surprise, my fellow line mates are mostly young to middle age, everyone keeping a well-practiced distance of more than 10 feet.  The line never stops moving and introduces me to my favorite National Guard servicemembers, who travels up and down with us, imploring us with great energy to move those “happy feet.” 

Sure enough in less than 10 minutes, I am directed, happy feet and all, to a bay with a smiling nurse and the man who never talks, at the computer.  Same health questions.  Very kindly demeaner. Raised sleeve.  I get the briefest glimpse of my savior, a delicate, slender tube.  And before it even starts, it’s over.  You cannot rightly call the vaccine a shot.  More like a fly making a brief landing.

What follows is yet another pleasant shock.  I am handed a vaccination card for my second vaccine with the instruction to simply show up on that day, no appointment needed!  Fifteen minutes in the waiting area, 45 minutes start to finish, and I re-emerge on the street, now sparkling in the winter light, with two thoughts. 

The first is overwhelming gratitude to the scientists, the scientific community and the process that made the vaccine possible, a first of its type in human history, developed faster than anyone imagined as feasible.  This story deserves names and honor and detail. A miracle not to be forgotten.

The second is how corrupt it is for the current administration to be in attack mode, claiming credit for vaccinating the public.  That work, the real work, was done before and is being done now locally.  It will save us all.

Image: Pixabay / Pixabay License