OMAHA, March 17, 2021 —I noticed the tightness in my shoulder as I pulled my T-shirt over my head the morning after the shot. I made a chicken wing of my arm, then raised it up and down, then raised my hand over my head as if swinging an imaginary lasso, an attempt to gauge the limitation of movement.
But that was it as far as side effects from getting my first Moderna COVID-19 vaccination shot. How did I luck into getting that shot? A note had gone out from my place of employ (no, not The Reader, Union Pacific) that a thousand doses had been made available to transportation workers who had been deemed 1C “essential,” even if that transportation worker sat all day in an office.
The following Saturday, I was headed to Norris Middle School in midtown Omaha, just a few blocks south of the VA Hospital on Center Street. Cars and SUVs were lined up on the street leading to the school, so I parked ol’ Trusty a few blocks away and hoofed it, passing an empty football field where a few people sweated on the running track trying to knock off a few winter pounds.
A huddle of masked older men stood outside. “I told them to make it hurt,” said a gray hair in glasses and a Husker hoodie. “They say if you don’t feel like shit afterward it didn’t work because that’s your body pumping up your immunity.”
Not true, I wanted to say, but kept following the giant road signs that pointed VACCINATION THIS WAY to a gym that looked like every high school gym I’ve ever stepped into — the drab linoleum floors, off-white cinderblock walls and grimacing face of the school’s mascot – an angry cardinal.
“Please stand on any open ‘x.'” The volunteer pointed at the floor. Six feet by six feet by six feet I made it to the sign-in table, where a woman with a “Hello my name is Inglish” (with an I, not an E) paper name tag asked me for my birth date before pointing to a back row of tables and where a kind nurse asked me for my birth date again.
“Which arm?” I rolled up my right sleeve.
She chatted quietly while doing something with swabs and alcohol: “I see by the logo on your mask you work for the railroad. Lots of railroaders today. Lots of FedEX and UPS, lots of truck drivers. Must be transportation day or something. You’ll feel a prick.”
It felt like nothing and everything.
She slapped a Bandaid on my arm and told me to sit in the bleachers for 15 minutes, you know, to see if anything bad happened. I made my way to the top row (just like at every high school basketball and volleyball game ever attended) and looked down at the crowd, mostly people my age, many younger then me, mostly guys. One woman sat with her head down looking like she was expecting something bad to happen. But nothing did.
Most people sat and stared at their phones. Me too. I took a moment to open Facebook and post a message:
“Just got Moderna’d (Pt. 1)”
Within moments, “thumbs up” appeared on the post, along with a few hearts. And then, comments. Most were messages of encouragement; some asked about side effects; many were tinged with frustration.
“How did you qualify?”
I write this on March 17, but you’ll be reading this in April. Hopefully by then, if everything keeps going the way it’s been going, you’ll have received your first shot. But until then, you and many other sane people will be trying to figure out how to game the system and get placed further up the list.
It’s been a long year. Hope has come in drips rather than waves. But the COVID-19 vaccine is the biggest wave of hope yet. It represents the reopening of America, the return to schools, a future vacation trip, an evening of fine dining and a late-night rock show. All without having to wear a mask. Probably.
But you’ve got to get vaccinated first. And so does everyone else. And that’s where the sand has fallen into the gears. According to a PBS poll conducted the first week of March, 49 percent of GOP men say they won’t get vaccinated. The doomsayers on CNN say that reluctance could mean unending mutations and a virus that will never go away.
The reasons for not getting the vaccine are as varied as the idiots who are refusing. I’ve heard the spin from the politicians. I’ve heard the bizarre conspiracy theories. I even know one person who believes the vaccine is the Mark of the Beast. That’s a hard one to argue.
It seems inconsequential until this ignorance and/or stupidity and/or political boneheadedness impacts the rest of us. And it will. It already has. Because you can’t force people to get vaccinated.
One example, close to my heart: While residents at elder care facilities were among the first to get vaccinated, some care workers at those facilities still refuse. As a result these people — along with other anti-vaxxers — are making it impossible for families to visit their older parents for more than an hour a week. Because we have to protect those reluctant few from getting infected.
It’s frustrating, especially considering those living in elder care facilities have — for all intents and purposes — been placed in year-long solitary confinement, their only family contact being the bellowing of ‘hello’s” through closed windows.
When you’re in your 80s, who knows how much time has been stolen by the virus. Half of your remaining life? A quarter? A tenth if you’re lucky. Now that they’ve all been vaccinated, it’s time to set these prisoners free.
A vibration jolted from my wrist — my iWatch telling me 15 minutes had passed, and I feel fine, a month away from shot No. 2 and a month closer to the end of this pandemic.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.