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March 6th, 2021

The Stab That Saves

March 3:

I take care to arrive early, because it’s a doctor’s appointment (sort of) and I know I should expect to be asked to fill out forms maybe, or answer a bunch of questions, and then sit and wait. Normally I bring a book, and maybe a water bottle, but this should be just an in and out kinda thing. But I allow for some processing up front even so. I arrive early.

At the main entrance I’m asked at the guard desk to verify my identity, my destination, given a temperature check and a crack and peel visitor’s badge. Large signs direct me to the vaccination room. I wait at the door until called over to the registration desk. I’m asked to verify my identity again, given a few more questions, then an appointment is made for my second shot and I’m given some paperwork describing the vaccine and something called V-Safe which I should load onto my smartphone, plus a Q&A about the vaccine I’m about to be given. Then I’m directed to take a seat in front of the vaccination stations and wait to be called.

When I’m called I sit at another station and answer a bunch more questions. The nurse IDs me from my visitor’s badge, but asks me to verify my full name and date of birth. Did you ever have a colonoscopy and did you get a bad reaction from the prep fluid. Have you had this or that other allergic reaction. Have you had any other vaccinations in the previous 14 days. Have you been treated for COVID-19.

A briefly creepy feeling washes over me when she walks over to the station to get the vaccine (the needles were pre-loaded) and says “Is this all?”

It’s the Pfizer vaccine. The shot is intramuscular. It doesn’t hurt any more than other such do, but at age 67 I am still a wimpy little kid when it comes to needles and can’t watch. I turn my head away.

I’m given a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, and told to go sit in an observation room for fifteen minutes. So I walk over and check in with the observation room nurse. She asks me for my name, checks it off a list, and says to sit down anywhere.

The sudden familiarity of it gets my attention. I read the papers I’ve been given…

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is an unapproved vaccine that may prevent COVID-19. There is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The FDA has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age or older under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)…

This is familiar territory. In 1988 I volunteered for an HIV vaccine trial. It was an initial toxicity study. Friends of mine were dying and I felt it was a calculated risk. The study had been slowly ramping up the dosage and I was signing on near the end when volunteers would be getting the highest dose. When I eventually got the candidate vaccine I sat in a small room hooked up to a bunch of monitors and a nurse sat there with me for one hour to see if I had any sudden adverse reaction.

Now I’m sitting in a room with maybe a half dozen others who had their shot and a nurse at the front behind a desk with a computer screen and some paperwork. Next to her disk is what looks like a machine to administer intravenous drugs and monitor your heart. I vaguely recognise it from the room I spent the night in when I had my heart attack. This is all still experimental, I think. We are getting this now, instead of many years later, because it’s an emergency. We are getting a vaccine that has been shown to be safe and effective in the initial trials, but the reality of it is still that the careful step by step process has been overruled by the necessity of getting it out there faster, before this thing mutates even more and kills hundreds of thousands more. It has already killed more than half a million of our neighbors here in the US.

In an ongoing clinical trial, the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has been shown to prevent COVID-19 following 2 doses given three weeks apart. The duration of protection against COVID-19 is currently unknown…

Now we’re finding out how it behaves in the population at large and how long the protection lasts. This is why there is so much emphasis in the paperwork I am given on notifying the CDC if I have any side effects…

The first week after you get your vaccine, v-safe will send you a text message each day to ask how you are doing. Then you will get check-in messages once a week, for up to 5 weeks...

I know the drill. I had to give blood once a month at the NIH in Bethesda for a year after I got that candidate HIV vaccine, and sit down with the doctors and answer questions about my health and behavior. Also, I had to agree not to have sex for the duration, because they wanted to see if the vaccine generated antibodies and getting infected would also do that. My love life wasn’t going anywhere then anyway so it was no trouble, sadly. They could have asked me that now in fact.

I drive home feeling good about being alive in 2021 and not back when the black death was raging all over Europe…

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