At 2:30 pm, on Friday, January 29, 2021, I became a COVD-19 statistic.
That day, my name was entered into two databases: New York State’s and the CDC’s national registry. The CDC tracks individuals who have received one of the 29 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across the U.S. since December 14, 2020. I count myself unbelievably lucky and grateful.
First of all, let me be frank. I’m acutely aware that I’m lucky on a host of fronts. First, I live in New York State – a state that’s been at the forefront of the urgent effort to coherently respond to the chaos of the Trump administration’s botched response to this once-in-a-lifetime national emergency. True to form, on January 12, 2021, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, responding almost immediately to updated directives for vaccination eligibility prescribed by President Biden’s newly organized CDC, opened up the state’s vaccination distribution to New Yorkers aged 65 and over.
Being a New Yorker is just the beginning of my luck. I also count myself lucky because, unlike the majority of Americans in my demographic group of 65 and over, I was contacted by a tech-savvy friend who offered to help my spouse and myself lock in appointments on New York State’s COVID-19 online vaccination sign-up site. That friend, motivated by a well-founded sense of urgency and a desire to help not only my spouse and myself but also our community at large, was invaluable in our securing appointments. After some false starts, when tips about potential vaccination availability at two independent pharmacies didn’t pan out, our friend’s determination and around-the-clock monitoring of the state’s website enabled us to capture two of the 250,000 doses per week that New York State currently receives as its allotment from the federal government.
Forgive me if I repeat the word lucky yet again. But there’s no other way to describe the experience of moving swiftly from non-vaccinated to vaccinated status. I was lucky, too, to be vaccinated at one of the thirteen official New York State-operated vaccination sites. The site I visited is located at SUNY Albany, just a thirty-minute drive from my home. Contrary to the myth of government ineptitude versus private-sector competence, the state-run facility was extremely well organized, efficient, and surprisingly pleasant. But beyond the obvious organizational wizardry at the site, what I found most impressive were the staff – many of whom were state employees or private citizens who had generously volunteered their time and skills to help accomplish the complex and necessary task of vaccinating as many New Yorkers as possible. They, along with the medical personnel, exuded a palpable sense of common purpose and a quiet awareness of their participation in an historic moment.
A Quick and Efficient Process
Located in the university’s parking lot, the site looked less like an emergency-response facility and more like a touring tent show for Cirque du Soleil. Unlike in other states, there were no lines snaking around the parking lot. Upon entering the first tent, future vaccinees were greeted by uniformed members of New York’s National Guard whose job was to confirm our appointments. Our temperatures were then monitored, after which we were ushered into the first of several interconnected, heated tents. A greeter directed each of us to the first of the four stations we would be required to visit.
At the first station, we were given a medical-history questionnaire. Yet another greeter’s job was to offer assistance answering questions and walk us over to a table where we filled out the three-page document. Upon completing the document, we were accompanied to the second station where a staff member asked each of us to confirm that we had not been exposed to anyone diagnosed with Covid-19 nor had we traveled outside of New York State. Finally, we were asked to sanitize our hands before being shown into the tent where we would receive our vaccinations.
The third station was located in the vaccination tent, which contained a multitude of cubicles curtained off for privacy. Inside sat three individuals: two whose job was to review the paperwork and solicit confirmation that the information visible on a computer screen was accurate. The third staff member was a friendly, chatty nurse who was there to administer the vaccine. A second supervising nurse was on call to confirm that vaccination was appropriate in circumstances where there might be any pre-existing medical conditions. Within five minutes, my Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was quickly and painlessly administered, and a follow-up appointment twenty-one days later for the second vaccine confirmed.
Before leaving the cubicle, each vaccinee was given a time slip that indicated when they might leave the facility following a thirty-minute observation period. The fourth and final station was the observation area where not more than thirty, socially distanced individuals, including myself, sat, while waiting out our time. A nurse walked back and forth down the aisles, smiling and asking each of us how we were feeling. From start to finish, the process took just forty-five minutes.
Two Days Later
As I write this, it’s two days since I received my COVID vaccination. Once again, I have to acknowledge that I’ve been extremely lucky. Unlike some individuals, I have experienced no adverse reactions beyond a tolerable soreness on my upper arm at the point of vaccination, which, as of now, has completely subsided.