Opinion: Getting the poke of ‘old normal’ in a COVID-19 vaccine

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom watches as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is prepared by Director of Inpatient Pharmacy David Cheng at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on Dec. 14, 2020 in Los Angeles. Photo by Jae C. Hong-Pool.

California has about 3,000 designations for the COVID vaccination process. Even the first level has so many subgroups that no one really seems to know what’s going on. Medical workers got the green light, followed by the 75-and-up crowd, and 65-and-older. There’s more layers to this thing than an airline boarding—but this is what we get instead. There was talk of including journalists in group “1C,” alongside other non-medical, non-agriculture essential workers, but apparently Gov. Gavin Newsom may have become undecided, and he’s stopped answering reporters’ questions about it in his press conferences. I know this because Managing Editor Daniel J. Willis has stayed on top of these developments.

He’s so focused on not getting recalled he’s abandoned logic,” Willis said. 

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COVID-19 vaccination location at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., on Feb. 4, 2021.

Anyway, my point is that I was surprised when I received both a pre-recorded message from my kids’ school district and an email from the East Bay Regional Center that someone in the state education department had applied logic and come to the conclusion that parents of kids with special needs should be vaccinated in group 1A. The official terminology is that “family members of certain people are ‘health care workers,'” according to the California Department of Developmental Services. The more practical translation may be that it’s “more expensive for the state to take care of kids with special needs if their parents die.”

And that’s how I found myself at Contra Costa College in San Pablo last week to receive my first vaccination shot.

Now, I’ve already got all the typical vaccinations. This was not a normal one. I was participating in a marvel of science and miracles—a race of global proportions. And I was like Indiana Jones, what’s-his-name in the “Da Vinci Code,” or a reverse Katniss Everdeen. I volunteered for the tribute. Let me put it another way: I was much closer to the front than the back of a general admission line to a U2 concert, ready to be so close that Bono’s sweat would be injected into me with a syringe.

After applying and receiving approval for vaccinations with the state, I expected to have to wait for an appointment to become available. My insurance company had been emailing me for weeks, after all, saying how under-equipped it was. But not so. There were appointments available four days later, administered by the Contra Costa County Health Services. The locations in our direct area were taken, but there were plenty in West Contra Costa County to choose from.

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COVID-19 vaccination injections stations at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., on Feb. 4, 2021.

My wife and I parked in the vaccination designated parking lot at the college, masked up, got out and walked to a waiting area with a small courtyard. There were about 30 people milling around, most of them seniors. Appointments were in batches of 10 minutes. The line seemed long, but that was because everyone with a particular time slot was funneled into a student building being used as a registration center. This room was broken down into 10 stations, with plastic separating you from the person confirming you are who you say you are and that you actually have an appointment in advance.

There’s a brief moment of trepidation when the young guy checking me in comments about my Trail Blazers hat. He’s got the power to send me home, I’m pretty sure. But in the end, he both acknowledges that “Damian Lillard is my man,” and he’s not even a Warriors fan. His team is… the Lakers. Smile and nod, and move through the building and out the other end. Another line.

The next five minutes are mostly anticlimactic. The line again moves into another building, following Duct-taped arrows and into one of several injection stations, separated by sheets. The nice nurse we get is friendly. She says she herself just got her second shot the prior week. This is also when we find out that we’re getting the Moderna shot (God bless Dolly Parton). The nurse warns us about the soreness we’ll have in our shoulders for a few days (very true—I felt great for several hours, but by the evening I felt like I had a charley horse that would not go away for a day and a half), and that there was a chance of some flu symptoms that were more likely after the second shot but could come with this one. They did not. This is also when I find out that

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Roman Gokhman gets a COVID-19 vaccination injection at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif., on Feb. 4, 2021.

I felt nothing of the shot itself. I didn’t feel a prick, a pinch, nothing. Perhaps that was because of the adrenaline rushing through my brain, telling me that we were rounding the curve to the old normal. For a few seconds, a rush of hope got pushed from that needle and into my shoulder. And just like that, it’s over, and it’s off to a third building set up like a DMV with lots of chairs and bored-looking people staring at their phones. After 15 minutes, you’re free to go home if you don’t have a history of severe allergic reactions.

California is still severely behind in terms of vaccinations. You may be waiting a while still until your turn comes up. That’s not even including people who have less access to this necessary medicine. But when your turn comes up, don’t be that person who questions science. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, for your family and friends or as a kindness to others, do it for that euphoric rush of eventually returning to the old normal.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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