The last time I wrote my Coronavirus Journal it was still 2020, an “awful year” that I compared to Barbara W. Tuchman’s calamitous 14th Century.
When I wrote that essay, I realized that I was starting to repeat myself and that I could not continue writing this series without risking repeating myself more often. I vowed that I would continue my Journal if I (1) caught COVID-19 (perish the thought) or (2) acquired a COVID vaccine, which at the time was still being developed. Thankfully not having the virus invade my system (that I know of) I hoped to write about my experience taking a vaccine that would save my life. At the time this article was written, three anti-COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (tozinameran). the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine (mRNA-173) and the Ad26.COV2.S vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson. A fourth vaccine, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is problematic and unlikely to be approved in the USA.
After the vaccines were developed and approved, the next step was to distribute them to those who wanted them; in other words, practically everybody. Since demand vastly outnumbered supply as far as COVID-19 vaccines were concerned, government agencies had to decide who was going to get their shots first. Most agreed that health care personnel and long-term care facility residents should get the vaccine first, which they did. After that, vaccines were to be given to essential workers, senior citizens, and people with underlying conditions, depending on the state where they live. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis decided, perhaps for political reasons, that essential workers are not as vulnerable as seniors and that preference be given to Floridians over 65, almost 4 ½ million of us.
This is where I came in. Like many of my friends, I am over 65 and thus eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available. But when?
As supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines made their too-slow way into Florida (and other states) seniors who were mostly confined to their homes for almost a year did everything they could to get their liberating shots. They signed up for appointments online or by phone, queued for hours in the hot sun, and did everything short of highway robbery to get a vaccine. Though the powers that be promised that vaccine distribution would be fair, those seniors with more money and lighter skins were more likely to get their shots than those who were poorer and darker.
In Palm Beach County, where Publix Supermarkets were given an exclusive right to disperse the vaccine, seniors on the (mostly white) beachside communities near a Publix were more likely to get their shots than those who lived in the (mostly Black and Brown) western towns of South Bay, Belle Glade and Pahokee near Lake Okeechobee. This has since been corrected, and now one may get shots at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS pharmacies or other venues.
As for me, I kept trying to get an appointment, by hook or crook, online or by phone. Not known for my patience, I bristled as my friends bragged on Facebook that they got their first or even their second shots. However, as the Trump Administration gave way to the Biden Administration, more and more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were manufactured and shipped to the various states. It was only a matter of time before I got a phone call from Broward Health, giving me the good news. Could I be at Broward Health North Hospital the next morning? Could I? The next day I was up early, rearranged my schedule and drove across Broward County in Quest of the Holy Grail.
Having heard horror stories about feeble ancients being stuck in their heated cars for most of a day, I took a book with me. Happily, my rendezvous with vaccine destiny was a more pleasant experience. After I parked my car at the hospital I walked over to the building where the vaccines were being given. I gave the folks at the desk my name and other pertinent pieces of information, sat down with the other seniors and filled out some more papers. Only a few minutes went by before I was summoned to go behind a screen, where a nurse was waiting to give me the first of two Pfizer vaccines. With the vaccine in my system and my right arm bandaged, I was told to sit in the next room and wait 15 minutes in case I suffered a reaction. (This is where my book came in.) I was then sent home, where I did what everyone else does under similar circumstances: take a selfie and post it on Facebook. (Excessive modesty is not one of my virtues.) Having received my first vaccine, I waited three weeks before getting my second shot. Though this led to an expectedly bad reaction, I soon recovered and was ready to go out and hug my grandchildren, if I had any. It was not long before the required age for vaccines was expanded to include adults below retirement age and both my sister Maggie and my boyfriend Ron (both under 65) were able to get their shots. A new chapter begins.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.