The Vaccine

injection-40696_1280Growing up, I’d occasionally hear adults sigh, “Them that has, gets” — a folksy if rueful translation of the maxim, “The rich get richer.” Amidst the current COVID vaccine chaos, a new version might be: “Them that can get, don’t want, and them that want, can’t get.”

As of this writing, fewer than 5 percent of American adults have received the vaccine. I’m surprised and grateful to be among them.  As I was rolling up my sleeve, the individual holding the needle acknowledged not getting the shot personally, adding, “I probably will,” with emphasis on “probably.”

I qualified not because of my age (76), but as a volunteer with the Okanogan Community Homeless Shelters. Other folks in my age group — from Sequim, Washington, to Orlando, Florida — have waited futilely in long lines, some even camping overnight in their cars, desperate to be vaccinated.

At the same time there are folks with “vaccine hesitancy.” It’s a national phenomenon, especially among many front-line health care workers whose responses range from “maybe later” to downright “no.” A hospital in New York reported that only three of nineteen full-time staff members in the respiratory therapy department agreed to get vaccinated. These are the folks who are at great personal risk as they intubate critically ill coronavirus patients.

Reportedly, some employers are offering bonuses, gift cards, and other lures to entice workers to get vaccinated. Other employers are threatening: get shot or get fired. My own Patrick Henry stance is that I’ll fight for other people’s right not to be injected, but I didn’t hesitate. I rolled up my sleeve for the same reason I get a flu shot every winter, for the same reason I wear a mask when around others. It’s really not about me. It’s about living in a community. The healthier each one of us is, the healthier we all are.

The release form I signed before getting the shot was enough to give anyone pause. A six-page fact sheet emphasized the vaccine was “unapproved” and only “may” prevent COVID-19. In lawyerly fashion, it went on to explain the FDA has authorized “emergency use.” It boils down to: don’t even think about suing us.

“The Plague Year,” a long article in New Yorker magazine, is more reassuring, detailing how the vaccines’ development hasn’t been a hurry-up, slap-dash process, but the result of decades of scientific anticipation and research. I had no side effects from that first shot.

Because of COVID and my age, I’d limited my involvement at the homeless shelter this winter to making and delivering two suppers a week. My second shot is scheduled for ten days from now. Then I’ll feel comfortable going back to spending time face-to-face, that is, mask-to-mask with guests. Yes, I’ll continue to wear a mask. Shelter volunteers spend an hour in conversation with guests to establish they are clean (of drugs) and sober, as the shelter requires.

I’ve missed those conversations; it really is about all of us being together again.