Knowing that there are options can be comforting and empowering. However, when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s recommended that you put your preferences aside and receive whichever one is first available. It makes sense. The sooner you’re vaccinated, the sooner you’re offered protection against the virus. The sooner your family is protected. The sooner restrictions are lifted. The sooner the pandemic is over!
Despite this, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama/angst of which one to receive. I admit, I found myself caught up in this emotional turmoil for a moment. Here’s my story.
The Long Road to Vaccination
Since I have underlying health conditions, I have been eligible for the vaccine for close to a month but despite my best efforts to secure an appointment, I was unable to find one given the limited availability in my area. I live in the far most western county of New York State, which continues to have trouble acquiring vaccine supply. Every single dose is being administered and still many in the priority groups have not been vaccinated.
After days of trolling the local and state health department sites as well as the pharmacy website schedulers, I secured a Pfizer appointment 65 miles away in Buffalo in mid-May (two months out)! Yay! But, I thought I’d keep at it trying to find something sooner and closer. Sure enough, a Johnson & Johnson (J&J) clinic showed up for that very morning at the SUNY college in my county only 19 miles away. Woo hoo! I got in! One shot and done. A short 25 minutes away!
Taking the appointment meant quickly mobilizing my remote schooling third grader and myself within two hours on a school/workday to get to the clinic. That didn’t matter. I was so pumped thinking I’d be considered fully vaccinated in two weeks instead of in more than three months! An added bonus…I’ll only have to go through the pain of the shot one time (I usually need a day of recovery after flu shots, so I had a feeling the COVID-19 vaccine would be rough, especially as it requires two doses.)
My daughter and I were in the car about to leave and I jumped on Facebook quickly so I could send a message to the other moms informing them that my daughter would be missing her afternoon Zoom session. And there it was: a post from the county health department, announcing “If you scheduled an appointment after 10 p.m. last night, you don’t have an appointment due to a glitch in the system.” Oh, no! I checked my email and there was no notification from the county or state saying my appointment was canceled. Let’s go anyway, and off we went.
We arrived at the college ice rink, ahead of our scheduled time. The line moved along but it was a good 40-minute wait, constantly maintaining six feet between the other masked residents, sweating it out, not knowing if I truly had an appointment. Once we made it to registration, one of the administrators relayed the message:
“Sorry, but there was a glitch in the New York scheduling system, and although you have an appointment, we don’t have a J&J shot for you. (There were only 100 J&J shots available and those were scheduled right away, before 10 last night.) The state scheduling system had an error showing that there were many more available appointments than there really were, but we do have the Moderna shot available.”
Although I understand that this was simply an error in the scheduling system and that I should be grateful that my appointment was being honored, I was annoyed and frustrated that I had signed up for J&J but instead was being offered Moderna. I pleaded, “Do you have any no-shows for the J&J? Can I wait for one of those? When will you have another J&J clinic? That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I expected.”
Then I took a deep breath, paused for a moment and thought, “I have been waiting a month. In fact, I’ve been waiting for a year for this moment, being very cautious avoiding exposure and putting my health and my family’s well-being at risk. I’m here. I have the opportunity to get jabbed and put this to an end. Yes, of course, I’ll do it!” I apologized for being curt and enthusiastically rolled up my sleeve while I waited in line for my shot.
After waiting out the 15-minute period to assure I didn’t have a reaction, I felt relief. Relieved that I got a vaccine that is incredibly effective at protecting me and others against this horrible disease. I can’t believe I almost walked out.
Tonja Dodd, MPH, is a Senior Health Strategy Analyst at Vitality Group where she translates clinical guidelines into risk appropriate health promotion strategies to engage members in healthy behaviors. Her background is in public health with 25 years of experience designing, developing and delivering health and wellness programs and products. Tonja finds her healthy place is being active outdoors and spending time with family, friends and pets.