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Life Lessons

I Got My First Vaccine Dose. Now What?

Vials of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine are pictured during vaccination in Gaza City on March 25, 2021. - Thousands of Palestinian health workers, the elderly, and patients with cancer or kidney disease were set to get Covid-19 vaccines as the health ministry ramped up its inoculation campaign (Photo by Mohammed ABED / AFP) (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)
Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

I saw the vaccine. In person. I was at the mass vaccination site and they had BOXES of the vaccine just sitting around. I felt like I was sitting in the center of a fucking gold mine.

I had not seen the vaccine until the day I got my first dose. I read about the vaccine. I saw it on television. I have friends, parents, and distant acquaintances who not only laid eyes on the vaccine, but experienced the added pleasure of having it injected directly into their respective bodies. But I myself had never seen it. I was too busy refreshing the CVS webpage praying I’d see an appointment available. Not even the vaccine, just an open time slot that might give me a chance to see it, and maybe get it. Maybe. I went to my grocery store first thing in the morning one weekend, convinced I was cold-calling for my jab at the exact right time. They had no appointments open. I’m not even certain they had any vaccines behind the counter. If they did, they were probably sealed inside a vault sealed inside an even larger vault.

Understand that I live in a state run by a Republican governor who has used the vaccine rollout to both dole out shady contracts to private firms and levy punishment on anyone who defies him, i.e. anyone black and/or liberal. Maryland will make all residents eligible to get a shot at the end of next month, which sounds like good news but, in Larry Hogan’s hands, is almost certainly a recipe for demand to even further outstrip supply. The more people can get the vaccine, the more frenzied the scramble becomes for everyone else to get their hands on it.

I was one of those frenzied masses. I did the same shit every other asshole suburbanite did. I pre-registered everywhere I could pre-register. I prowled around for the fabled leftover vaccines that drugstores and mass vaccination sites are purportedly dishing out to lucky stragglers. I got and forwarded tips on the best places to get a jab. Well see, Danny said if you go to the Safeway in Cumberland at exactly 8:31 a.m. and you ask for Jay, and you say I REQUIRE FRESH PEPPER to him, he’ll hook you up. All that shit. So much of that legwork felt pointless, tedious, and downright unethical. Vaccine distribution was never gonna be a clean process. But already we know which states have done their best (Connecticut) and which states have decided to fuck around and test their residents’ willpower for sport (mine).

So when I finally got my chance, I refused to believe it was gonna really happen. I sat in my chair in the holding pen, staring at the boxes. I was so close to the vaccine, I could taste it. When the clinician finally called me over to her table, I was still in disbelief. I may as well have been at my own wedding again. I got my first dose, secured the precious CDC card, waited the 15 required minutes afterward, and then sprinted to my car to rip off my mask and scream out in triumph. I was free.

Kind of. I still need my second dose. And then I need to wait two weeks. But even then I’m only as vaccinated as the people I care about. I need my wife to get HER first jab, plus her second, plus her own two weeks after that. Then I have to wait for the government to announce that fully vaccinated people probably can’t infect other people with the virus, which is almost certainly true but still lacks official confirmation. Then I have to wait for my children to get vaccinated. I think?

Kids aren’t approved to be vaccinated yet and won’t be until at least the back half of this year, when Moderna and Pfizer get results of their trial runs on kids 12 and older. I have two kids over 12 and one kid under. When do they get their jabs? Do they even need them? I looked at the stats. According to CDC, 238 kids under 17 have died from COVID during the pandemic. Horrible, but that seems pretty safe. But is it safe enough?

You see, my wife and I spent so much time obsessing over protecting our family from infection, and so much time trying to get vaccinated, that we never really PLANNED for what we would do afterward. I knew there would be a psychological adjustment, but there are also logistics to consider, which I didn’t consider at all. Now that I’ve scored the precious first dose, I’m about to enter a new phase of pandemic learning that, like my first round of COVID education a year ago, could take months to sort out. Many FAQs will be consulted. Despite the fact that Trump is no longer President, I still may not get decent guidance from the U.S. government on how to safely navigate The After. As this article from David Wallace-Wells in New York points out, one of the reasons the U.S. failed so horribly in containing the pandemic was because, counterintuitively, it was TOO careful about certain things:

At the level of public guidance, throughout America and Europe, there has been a tendency to regard anything that didn’t offer perfect and total protection against transmission as needlessly risky behavior.

An abundance of caution, indeed. But I’m pre-conditioned to crave guidance at this point. Every personal decision my wife and I have made with regard to the pandemic—especially electing to keep our kids in e-school all school year—has been made with us erring on the side of supreme caution. And I don’t wanna slack off NOW on that, only for the worst to happen. I don’t know when I’ll be able to go maskless in public again. I don’t know when everyone else will either, nor how I’ll react when they can. Frankly, thanks to masks, I’d forgotten how ugly many of you are.

There’s more. I don’t know if some asshole will gun me and a dozen other people down if I go ANYWHERE at the moment. Also, we still have global warming! And Amazon won’t let its employees take piss breaks! Turns out we still have problems on the other side of this vaccine. What the fuck, man. I thought I’d be driving a Ferrari to Mexico by now. You’re telling me that ALL of my problems aren’t solved now? I can’t believe it. I’m gonna give this vaccine BACK. Just suck it out of my blood and sell it on Facebook Marketplace.

Just kidding. The day I got jabbed was literally one of the best days of my life. I should have married the syringe, the way Magic Johnson did the other day.

I’m an American, which means I believe that there must be a silver bullet for every problem. But now that you and I are on the verge of getting our old lives back, I know those old lives came with their own set of challenges. There’s no silver bullet. There’s only life inside a normal that we all know was substandard to begin with. So now, at least for me, is when the REAL work begins. But at least I got my jab. At least I’ll survive to do that work. I finally saw the vaccine. I finally got the vaccine. I can do anything.

Maybe.