It was the shot heard round our (little) world.
After a long 11-month seige of social lives and companionship, sense of safety and the joys of just basic normalcy, I joined a daylong procession of fellow Vermonters walking into the Barre Auditorium to get our first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
There were around 150 of us Tuesday, all 75 or older and part of the first wave of Vermonters to get the shot under the state’s age-based rollout of vaccinations for the general population. For me, the feeling was oddly giddy, a glass half-fizzing with elation and the other half-flat with caution, knowing the shot is only a first step in a two-step tango that eventually brings a huge decline in risk and worry.
The promised land comes with a second booster shot to achieve near-95% efficacy, which still leaves an unfortunate 5% up in the air. Plus all that stuff about variants and still wearing a mask.
I probably was not the only one to walk in with the humorous realization that the shot presented perhaps the only benefit of having turned 75, unless you count the (alleged) wisdom that age brings. For my many friends just a year or so behind, I was a subject of envy, and a first-person source to how the vaccine process works.
I was greeted at the door of the auditorium by Josh Kelly, a volunteer from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation who wore a cool wooden name tag. He was checking people in and then leading them to socially distanced folding metal chairs.
I told him this was by far the largest crowd I had been in since last March, which made him laugh. After asking a few questions, he told me, “Thanks for coming.” “The pleasure is entirely mine,” I thought, and for once really meant it.
Waiting to be called for the shot, I looked around the cavernous space, filled with many clearly older than myself (a newly minted 75), usually attended by a younger family member. As a longtime reporter and editor at the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, I had visited the “Aud” many times over the years, from meetings and conventions to the annual farm show. The “Aud” is most famous, of course, as the boisterous high-decibel venue for Vermont high school basketball playoffs, a scene quite different from what greeted me Tuesday.
There were no bleachers, a faded blue carpet covered the shiny amber hardwood floor, and, still deep in our Covidlandia world, no hope that cheering fans might gather to root for their teams this spring. However, sitting in this Vermont shrine for shooting hoops, I appropriately can say I went through considerable (online) hoops to get this shot.
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For those younger on the age ladder whose shot lies ahead, you can thank us 75ers for being guinea pigs for your smoother vaccine sign-up experience, as the state works out the kinks. (After those 75 and over, the vaccine plan moves down the age scale for eligibility: 70-plus, then 65-plus and then people with certain high-risk conditions.)
While by most standards I’m pretty tech-savvy (don’t tell my daughter I made this claim), it took me some effort to get signed up. I was not alone. Like many of the estimated 49,000 Vermonters in my age group, when signups started on Jan. 25, I eagerly jumped on my computer to get scheduled for a shot. After navigating the health questions and personal info, I surveyed the choice of vaccination sites, and picked Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. But when that site popped up, all the slots were filled, and I found myself stuck in a digital box canyon with no way out.
Back to the beginning I went, to start all over.
Once again I filled out forms, and reasserted I was neither pregnant nor lactating and a host of other medical questions. This all took more than a half-hour, during which I missed earlier dates at other nearby sites in central Vermont before I snagged the “Aud” for Feb. 9. According to the Vermont Health Department, more than 13,000 people signed up in the first few hours that day.
Progress is being made. On the same day I got my shot, Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, reported that about 43,000 Vermonters 75 or older had registered to receive the vaccine, and about 32 percent have received at least one dose.
Also, both CVS and Walgreens are now providing vaccine sites as the state expands its vaccine rollout, though still constrained by federal doses made available. In total, 53 sites in 39 towns will become available and it will take roughly six weeks to go through the 75 and over group, according to the health department.
Back at the Aud, I was informed by Kelly that the shot being offered was the Pfizer vaccine, which is the one requiring super-cold refrigeration. He handed out a bunch of information on side effects and prevention, stapled with information on the Moderna vaccine for some reason.
As we waited, yellow-vested Vermont Department of Health staffers circulated around, calling out names of those who could move to the screened spots where the shots were given.
When I was called, I was escorted to sit in front of a Barre Town paramedic whose nametag said “Caroline.” After entering more info on her computer and asking which shoulder I wanted the shot (left), she picked up the very slender syringe and in seconds I was vaccinated. Commenting that I didn’t feel a thing, she explained that the amount of vaccine injected is very small.
From her station, I was led over to a waiting area on the other side of the Aud, where those receiving the shot are held for 15 minutes to check if they have a reaction. A staffer roamed around the site with a laptop on a wheeled podium to sign us up for the booster shot. With the Pfizer vaccine, the wait time for the second shot is three weeks. Each of us was given a time and told to come back March 4, again at the “Aud,” and also given a vaccine card with the date and type of vaccine we received. (For those with a smartphone, the info I received recommended taking a photo of the card in case you lose it. You can also sign up for “V-Safe,” a monitoring post-vaccination health checker that also sends reminders for your second shot.)
After around 35 minutes total time, I was told I was cleared to go and walked out a rear exit door and down a newly constructed long ramp to the parking lot. Fat, wet snowflakes were falling outside, but it definitely felt like a lucky ray of sun was shining on me, as it will in the weeks ahead for those 70 and up, and then 65 and older.
The day after, my shoulder is a little sore, and my upper body feels a little achy. Compared to the alternatives, it’s a great feeling.
The latest VtDigger update on Vermont’s COVID-19 status is here.
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