The Republican in me was ready for everything to be screwed up. After all, I had registered weeks ago for a Covid-19 vaccine through the Alexandria Health Department. I had heard nothing. And when it was announced that all local health department lists had been merged into one statewide list, I was even more convinced that I had been lost in a bureaucratic maze.
I know folks who are more eager than me to get vaccinated as fast as possible. Trying other jurisdictions. Scouting out drugstore sites. Scouring the internet. I just figured my time would come. After all, my only qualification is that I'm 66 years old and slightly overweight. There are lots of first responders, frontline health providers and essential workers far more deserving than me.
But two weeks ago I unexpectedly received an email from the Health Department. It said I should “click here” to schedule a vaccine appointment. Surprised but still skeptical – worried that it might be a scam -- I clicked anyway, expecting to be told that an appointment might be available in a few weeks or months. But to my surprise, there was an appointment available in one hour. That’s right: One hour. I jumped at the chance, printed the confirming email, and drove to George Washington Middle School.
There I was met by a one young volunteer who asked if I had a smartphone. Thankfully, she didn’t ask how smart the operator of said phone was, but I sensed she suspected some degree of incompetence when she cheerily suggested that there were volunteers aplenty to help me. Determined to navigate the signup process on my own (and unwilling to concede my senior status) I managed to find the appropriate website and enter the requested information. My only trouble was the bright sun of a glorious late winter day and my own fat fingers typing on the tiny iPhone keypad (see reference to “slightly overweight” above). More than once I was approached by a happy young volunteer offering help, all with smiles as bright as the yellow vests they wore that looked as if they’d been borrowed from a construction crew.
The website asked a lot of personal questions. Once again the conservative in me awakened, questioning whether all of this personal information was really necessary. But the choice was simple: information or vaccination. The answer was clear. The government already knows everything about me anyway.
So with the questionnaire complete, I was ushered around yellow police tape to the entry doors of the school gym, with everyone carefully social distancing along the way. I did notice that the crowd was pretty much my age, as if I had stumbled into an AARP convention. The line, with folks separated by distance markers on the ground, moved quickly and efficiently. The process felt a lot like going to vote. As I got to the front (within two minutes at most) I was asked to give my name to another capable volunteer sitting behind a folding table. My name was not on “the list.” Finally, I thought, something was going to go wrong.
But not a problem to the man at the table. He called out to another volunteer to check the “other list,” which turned out to be a list of names recently added to “the list.” I suspected (though I don’t really know) that I was the beneficiary of some doses that suddenly opened up. Hence the lucky email with the appointment in an hour that started this whole adventure.
I was handed an orange slip of paper and pointed to the school doors, which opened into the vast gymnasium. There were scores of people there, yet the place was neither crowded nor chaotic. The bleachers were packed away and the gym floor was covered with tables. It felt as if I had walked into a trade show. Maybe it was an AARP meeting after all. Then suddenly I remembered the last time I was in a school gymnasium to get a vaccine — back in the 1960s for my polio shot.
Upon turning in my orange slip, instead of being handed a ballot like on Election Day I was directed to table 27, where one volunteer was standing with arm raised to indicate readiness. I started to take a picture of the whole impressive operation but saw the “no photography” sign. Since I was directed to table 27, I know there were at least that many tables set up.
There I sat with two men wearing white shirts with patches from the Alexandria Fire Department. I had come prepared as instructed, so it was easy for the man on the left to roll up my left sleeve and prep my left arm while the other grabbed my attention. He firmly but in a friendly manner insisted that I look directly at him and the card in his hands. He must have sensed my fear of shots. Not a fear of vaccination: just a fear of the shot experience.
The man on the right focused me on my upcoming schedule. He said I would get a follow-up email soon offering appointments for the second shot. (The next day I did). He handed me the information card and let me know that I needed to wait around for 15 minutes or so to be sure I had no immediate adverse reaction. I didn’t. I didn’t even feel the “jab.” Ninety minutes from getting the lucky email the whole process was over. The Band-Aid on my left shoulder and the card in my right hand were my only proof that the shot even happened.
As I worked my way out the back of the gym and around the police tape, I was met with yet another happy volunteer. This time I paid attention to the Alexandria Health Department identification card around her neck as she asked me if I needed help or direction. “No,” I said. “I’m on the way out.” But I couldn’t help asking: “Are you a health department employee?”
“No,” she said. “just an ordinary Alexandria citizen trying to help get the world back to normal.” Hearing that still makes me want to cry – and swell with pride to be an Alexandrian.
Government gets a bad rap all the time. And there’s plenty of reason to be critical. But we need to give credit when credit is due. Kudos to all who are helping to put shots in arms in such a methodical and efficient way. I’ll see them again in a few days.