Friday, April 2, 2021

I Got My First COVID-19 Vaccine!

Sitting in the car, waiting to get my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday April 1, 2021.

A lot has happened over the past 24 hours, and it all felt rather significant and certainly worthwhile for relating to you people who read this blog, whomever you are. To properly explain, let's back up a bit.

Thursday, March 25, 2021
I probably could leave this part out, but.. starting in or around December 2019, the world has been afflicted by COVID-19, a serious viral pandemic that has to date killed almost three million people, has infected 130 million people, and has massively impacted the lives of literally everyone regardless of whether they had the virus or not. The first effective vaccines started becoming available to the general public in late 2020, but distribution of the vaccines (more on those in a moment) was limited to the people most likely to be seriously impacted by the virus, or who had the highest risk of exposure due to their occupation or living circumstances. For the most part, it was people over 65 and those essential employees who could not sequester themselves from viral exposure and still earn a living.

Side note: I want to be clear that I completely agree with this prioritization of vaccine distribution. I was very happy when my elderly mother was fully vaccinated. Actually, I was happy every single time I saw any random person post on social media about having been vaccinated. The people who needed it most got it first, and honestly that's a good blueprint for society as a whole.

I was happy to wait my turn to become eligible for the vaccine. By the end of this month, every American over the age of 16 will be able to be vaccinated.

Anyway, on Thursday March 25, the state of California put out a press release that announced that starting on April 1, all Californians aged 50 and over would now be eligible to receive the vaccine, and added that starting on April 15, all Californians over 16 years old could do the same. Note that at the moment, no vaccine has been approved for people younger than that yet, so essentially the state is opening vaccine distribution for everyone possible at that time. And yes, different states have had different schedules, and most countries outside the USA have yet to get nearly enough doses of any of the vaccines to properly inoculate a large percentage of their population. It will happen eventually.

Thursday, April 1, 2021
So, just one week after the announcement by Governor Gavin Newsom, the day arrived that Californians over 50 could try and get an appointment for vaccination. Note the word "try". Up until that moment, being previously ineligible, I hadn't personally looked into the process of trying to get a vaccine, though I'd heard some stories (and seen the process spoofed on Saturday Night Live) about how confusing and difficult it was. They weren't kidding.

I'm not casting any blame here. It's a herculean undertaking, trying to safely inoculate millions and millions of people in a short time frame. Los Angeles County has a fairly good web site that connects you to dozens of potential sources for the various vaccines. These sources range from pharmacies (CVS, Walgreen's, etc.) to grocery chains (Albertsons, Vons, Ralph's, and so on) to various kinds of medical facilities both permanent and temporarily set up for this task.

With more than 10,000,000 residents, Los Angeles County (where I live) is the most populous county in the United States. Getting vaccinations set up for all of us is a huge task, and I genuinely think it's being handled well under the circumstances. This is the web site I used to secure my vaccination appointment.

I woke up on Thursday morning with the goal of getting signed up for a vaccination appointment, but my initial efforts were disappointing. Like I imagine most people would, I started with the hopeful idea that a convenient spot here in my area would have available appointments. Ha! I looked into the appointment schedule for every point on the map within a 5+ mile radius of my home here in Redondo Beach. Literally nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It wasn't like, "Yeah, you can get an appointment but it will be in two months." I would have been fine with that. No, it was "no appointments available" at every single place I looked into.

It's easy to understand. It's not a matter of the vaccination sites not being able to handle the number of people who want a vaccine. It's that the vaccine supply itself is still relatively limited. They can only issue appointments when they know they'll have the vaccines on hand to serve the people. Also, note that the vaccines can't just be mass produced in huge numbers; it's a slow process and some of them need to be kept at very low temperatures from the point of manufacture to the time of being administered.

Grabbing the Jab
There I was at 7AM, sipping my coffee and semi-frantically clicking through the web site, searching for any resource that could provide me with a vaccine, and coming up with nothing. I knew that eventually, something would open up and I'd be able to schedule an appointment, and I was prepared to be patient as such, but frankly I really just wanted to get it done with. Like many people, for more than a year I've been staying home as much as possible and limiting my potential for exposure to COVID-19. My last vacation of any kind was in May 2019. I want to be able to live life again in a way that's safe for myself, and for the friends and family with whom I come into contact.

Christina joined me in the office and started going through the same process I'd been doing, with the same lack of results. But then, something miraculous happened: we looked into one of the vaccination resources with which we'd been previously unfamiliar, something called Carbon Health. They are apparently a network of urgent care and primary care facilities. I saw on the map that there was a facility set up in a large church parking lot in South LA, and clicked it. And that's when the magical information popped up; when I clicked the "make appointment" button, it didn't say "no appointments available". Instead, it asked me when I'd like to make the appointment... on that very day.

I looked at Christina and made sure that she was seeing the same thing as me. She was. We saw there were open spots at 2:30PM, and before they could get scooped up, we both grabbed them. We couldn't believe it; I wasn't even sure it was truly real until a minute or two later when I got a text message and email confirmation.

I was pretty ecstatic when I finally got my appointment, and my governor was also happy for me.

Nice People in South LA
The location of the vaccination site was at 1261 W 79th Street, which, as I saw via Google Maps, was in the parking lot of a large dome-shaped structure called the Crenshaw Christian Center. It actually isn't that far from here at all distance-wise, about 11 miles away, but it's a world apart from a socioeconomic perspective. It's smack in the middle of an area called South LA which was formerly known as South Central until the stigma of that name from coverage in the '80s and '90s of gang violence, drug dealing, and prostitution required a name change to make it a more viable area for community investment and redevelopment.

Like many people in Southern California (and probably around the world), I tend to stick to my own neighborhood. If I'm going to be driving around LA, it's generally for business reasons or (pre-pandemic) occasional social outings, and it's almost never to South LA. However, I wasn't going to allow some unintentional but inherent snobbism on my behalf have me hesitate about my chance at getting the vaccine.

It wasn't exactly a quick jaunt down the street, but it was a very worthwhile and mild inconvenience that had us heading up to South LA in order to get protected from the coronavirus. Also: per my route, apparently I don't like to turn the vehicle much.

We thought we were giving ourselves a ton of extra time by leaving for the appointment a full hour ahead of time for what is at most a 30-minute drive. However, when we arrived at the intersection of Vermont and 83rd, we saw that the left turn lane was blocked off and a long line of cars stretched northward up the street. It ended up taking another full hour before we slowly made our way around the block and then up to the vaccination site, but it wasn't a big deal. We listened to KCRW and chatted while the line of cars crept through the streets.

Before we even pulled into the site, we were greeted by a friendly person who checked our IDs, and then once inside there was another wait while they cleared through the people directly in front of us. Then it was our turn. We pulled up into the directed lane of cars, and another very courteous person approached to take our information, confirm that we had no medical allergies, and so on. A few minutes later, one of the medical staff from the Los Angeles Fire Department, smiling and friendly even after serving a full day of administering inoculations to thousands of Angelenos, came up and gave us our shots. Please note that at this location, the entire operation was drive-thru. We didn't get out of our vehicle at all. Christina later said it was like In-N-Out Burger where they take your order in line at your car window, except instead of a tasty burger, we'd get a lifesaving vaccination when we pulled up.

The large parking lot of the Crenshaw Christian Center had already been being used as a major COVID testing site, so they were very well organized in getting thousands and thousands of people in and out of the place, even on the mad rush from the first day of general eligibility for those of us 50 and older.

Does the vaccine hurt? No. The exact opposite. I barely felt the needle at all, to the point where I had to ask if she'd done it yet. She placed a small band-aid on the injection spot, and then we had to wait another 20 minutes or so. This allowed the staff to ascertain that we were experiencing no immediate severe reactions to the vaccine. I should note that everything was organized and automated; once the time had elapsed, we were allowed to go on our way after getting a text notification. We waved at and thanked each of the workers we passed on our way out. The whole experience was great and I was feeling extraordinarily grateful as we left, and then headed back in the southwest direction to get home.

Another important note: this vaccine is free. You will be asked if you have medical insurance. If you do, you'll provide your insurance card at the site. If you are not insured, there is no difference. They will administer the vaccine to you regardless. The one thing you will need is an ID that shows you live in the area and that you are part of an eligible age group. 

My vaccination card (you've probably seen a lot of these lately).

My freckly shoulder and my band-aid from my painless and free vaccine.

Side Effects and Other Afterthoughts
One thing about this vaccination process: there are several versions of the COVID-19 vaccine out there, but you do not have the option of choosing which one you get. The one you get is the one that's available at the place you go on the day you go. It's not like going to your local bar and choosing which beer you like. You take the one they give you.

NOTE: I based this chart on the most recent information I could find from a variety of sources. If you have more detailed questions about the vaccines, you should ask someone with more expertise than a random blogger guy who sings and plays guitar.

At the Carbon Health site in South LA, we were given the Moderna vaccine. We experienced no immediate effects at all. Later that day and continuing into the following day, both Christina and I had minor soreness in the arm near the site of injection. Nothing serious at all. We also both felt that we had a little extra fatigue that evening and perhaps a slight feeling of being parched that was easily solvable by drinking a little extra water.

Other people have experienced stronger side effect symptoms, and yet others have had none at all. Note that a good percentage of people who've received the second dose of Moderna said it knocked them for a loop, with more powerful feelings of fatigue, low fever, and overall malaise for a couple of days. But again, it's a low price to pay to end up having near complete immunity from COVID-19, and subsequently being able to enjoy life that is slowly making its way back to normal.

Kizzy PhD.

Quick side-note on Moderna: while it takes many people to create an effective vaccine against a powerful novel virus, the mRNA-1273 Moderna vaccine development was led by a Black woman named Dr. Kizzmekia "Kizzy" Corbett. Her brilliant work is almost certainly going to end up resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives being saved, and she deserves all the credit and grateful thanks that people can offer her.

So, that's it for now. I'll continue wearing my mask and doing all of the social distancing necessary for as long as required. Our second dose happens in 28 days, and two weeks after that, I should never have to personally worry about COVID-19 again. That will be a very good day.

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