Being called for a COVID vaccine in Florida felt like 'I'd won the lottery'

Tuesday, 12 January 2021 16:36 GMT

Health workers prepare to administer vaccines at a fire department in Tallahassee, Florida. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Allison Finn

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I was among the lucky few to receive one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in Florida’s chaotic roll-out. Millions of other Americans may have to wait months.

By Allison Finn

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, Jan 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - By some fluke I was among the first in Florida to be offered the COVID-19 vaccine in the midst of a chaotic roll-out across the United States.

When I got "The Call", it felt like I'd won the lottery.

Our governor decided to buck a recommendation by the federal Food and Drug Administration that "essential workers" such as transportation and grocery employees should be next in line for vaccination after medical staff.

That opened the floodgates to anyone aged 65 and over, myself included, and the predictable chaos ensued.

Phone lines at the local health department in Leon County, Tallahassee, crashed immediately. One elderly woman told our local newspaper that she was reluctant to go to the bathroom, in case she missed the all-important phone call.

In other Florida counties, elderly people spent several nights in line on beach chairs. Elsewhere in the state, it was impossible to get vaccine supplies at all. 

I was among those outraged to learn that people who had simply shown up at the county health department were given the vaccine. A friend managed to finagle a dose from her doctor who had spares.

Frankly, I was jealous.

But then I got lucky too. After spotting a link to a vaccine request form on the health department website before it was publicized, I was invited to join the ranks of the privileged few.

I was given an appointment at the fire department at precisely 10.34 a.m. on a Saturday in early January.

"We are making appointments for every minute," explained the woman who called to arrange my slot.

The day before, I took my long-dormant car out for a spin to make sure it still worked.

Setting out early in pounding rain the next morning, I drove extra cautiously to get my vaccine shot.

Sheriff's cruisers, blue lights whirling, emerged in the gloom, along with about 50 cars inching toward the huge open garage doors of the fire department.

There were a few preliminaries as I got closer. Did I have an appointment? Yes. Was I over 65? Yes.

Eventually I arrived among the fire trucks and ambulances.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at "Les Figuiers" retirement home (Ehpad - Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) in Villeneuve-Loubet as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in France, January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

A young man wearing a mask and Tallahassee Fire Department baseball cap approached, leaned into the car over my left arm and, as he told me to take a deep breath, I felt a short, sharp sting.

"Thank you, thank you," I blurted out. After waiting 15 minutes in a queue to check for any possible side effects, the long-awaited vaccination was over.

I have regaled my fellow Zoomers, my only companions in recent months, about my adventure and I feel relieved that many others are now being contacted.

But even among friends, who has been vaccinated and who hasn't has become another of the pandemic's many awkward differences - like those willing to invite guests over and those who would be too wary.

And how much worse the fate of others who are less privileged. My children and millions of other Americans may have to wait months, billions of people elsewhere even longer.

The future remains dizzyingly uncertain. But it does seem, finally, that wonderful things we remember from the past – 2019 and other ancient times – are in reach again. 

May it soon be as easy for everyone. 

Related stories:

COVID-19 vaccine roll-out won't achieve herd immunity this year - health experts

Poorer countries could start getting COVID vaccines this month-WHO

A COVID-19 shot for $150? Online scams surge as slow vaccine rollout frustrates

(Editing by Helen Popper and Tom Finn; (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly)