Coronavirus: Getting the vaccine

My road to getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine started with envy of my wife. She received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine in February before I received an email from Kaiser Permanente in early March to set up an appointment for my first.

OK, I was happy for her, truth be told, relieved at the time that at least one of us would have some protection from a potentially deadly disease caused by a coronavirus newly discovered in late 2019.

We are seniors, in a group highly susceptible to the virus. So for the past year in our modest two-bedroom home in Santa Rosa, as it likely was for so many of us across the nation and the world, our waking hours were laced with extra measures of anxiety on most days until we heard late last year that scientists and technicians had developed effective vaccines and were about to conduct clinical trials.

So when I responded to an email from Kaiser in early March and received a March 5 appointment, I was relieved and looked forward to rolling up my sleeve at Medical Office Building No. 5 on Old Redwood Highway in north Santa Rosa.

The appointment notice came after weeks of additional anxiety on reports that the vaccine supply in Santa Rosa was extremely limited and area hospitals were awaiting shipments from Pfizer and Moderna. When would they arrive? When? When? For a time, I foolishly thought someone would, but, of course, no one did.

Bundled up in jacket, as advised, I arrived at the clinic at 10:15 a.m. The parking lot was full, and there was a line of at least 25 people queued up, each appearing to be over 65 and waiting to check in at a table outside the main entrance.

When I finally reached the table, a nurse took my temperature with one of those gun-like thermometers that quickly measure body surface temperature without making any contact with a person’s skin. I was 97 something, not feverish.

I told the receptionists at the table that I was a newspaper reporter and asked if I would be allowed to have my wife take my photo as I received the vaccine.

“You’ll have to ask one of the nurses on the second floor,” I was told.

Afterward, I waited for several minutes before a nurse ushered me into the building and my wife, Hale, a retired high school art teacher, and I walked up to the second floor, where there was another group of 25 people waiting in another line.

Spotting a nurse who walked along the line, I asked her if my wife could take photos as I was being vaccinated and was told no.

OK, I was not going to get “the shot,” well, the visual one that I thought news editor Kim Fu would want and, of course, the one that Reporter readers would expect.

Once I arrived inside the actual vaccination area, I was eventually directed to a table with two nurses, one taking down some personal information, the other preparing the syringe to inject me with what turned out to be the Moderna vaccine.

I asked why I could not have my wife quickly snap a photo of me while I was being inoculated and one of the nurses said that, during the early days of the first vaccine rollout, the clinic became, essentially, a media circus and a distraction to the important work they were doing at the time. So Kaiser officials afterward disallowed media inside the vaccination room from then on. No exceptions.

But, I was told I could have my wife take a photo of me in the waiting room. The building’s cafeteria turned into a waiting room where, at 10:31 a.m., with my official COVID-19 vaccination record card in hand, I walked in and saw some 30 chairs filled with people, each socially distanced. I was advised to wait for 15 minutes in case of adverse reactions to the shot.

My wife eventually snapped the photo of me writing notes about the day’s experience and I took others from the second floor as I looked out at a growing line of people waiting to enter the building to receive their first or second dose.

As I wrote and waited, the sound of The Byrds’ 1965 hit “Turn! Turn! Turn!” based on the Pete Seeger tune, seeped out quietly from overhead speakers, the lyrics taken from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes, specifically Chapter 3, verses 1 to 8: a “season,” or “A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap; a time to kill, a time to heal,” and so forth.

It resonated, especially the phrase “a time to heal” and yryds frontman Roger McGuinn’s jingle-jangle guitar, backed by bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist David Crosby, and the song’s chord structure.

I recall feeling comforted to hear the iconic 1960s protest anthem once again, thinking how appropriate it was to come at what I hoped was the beginning of the end of a once-a-century pandemic that has now taken nearly 540,000 lives in the United States alone.

My wife and I left the waiting room promptly 15 minutes later, at 10:46 a.m. I thought myself lucky to receive the first of a two-dose vaccine and was amazed to learn that some 2 million other Americans also received a vaccination on the same day I did.

Indeed, I remember thinking again, at home, of The Byrds’ tune and the lyrics “For everything there is a season.”

The season continues on April 2, when I get a second dose and what I have come to believe will be pretty good protection.

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