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The beginning of the end

Started: 2021-04-18 16:31:39

Submitted: 2021-04-18 19:02:56

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator gets his first Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine

On Saturday I finally got the chance to take my first concrete step towards ending the COVID-19 pandemic (rather than just mitigate the impact, as I've done every day for more than a year): get my first COVID-19 vaccination shot.

I work in Santa Clara County, so I made an appointment to get my shot at the Levi's Stadium mega-site run by Santa Clara County. (The stadium site is one of the largest in California; on Thursday last week it set a record for the state by vaccinating more than 13,000 people in a single day.) I had an appointment for 13:30 on Saturday, and the email from the county health department said I should try to arrive 15 to 30 minutes earlier than that. I drove down from the Loma Prieta and, right on time, pulled into the parking lot the new stadium shares with its neighbor, the amusement park Great America, situated in the middle of a sea of office parks. (I remember visiting Great America as a kid growing up in Redwood City; the sports stadium is a newer addition, opening in 2014.)

COVID-19 vaccination site at Levi's Stadium
COVID-19 vaccination site at Levi's Stadium

I parked and made my way towards the stadium, and eventually it became clear precisely where I ought to get my vaccine, going through a security check (they were very interested in looking at my keys, I guess to confirm I wasn't trying to smuggle in a very small and not-at-all-dangerous pocket knife, but were careful not to touch anything in my hands), then entered the queue snaking back and forth while walking towards the stadium entrance.

Approaching Levi's Stadium through the pedestrian maze
Approaching Levi's Stadium through the pedestrian maze

In the queue I got a patient intake form and a flimsy piece of paperboard that was supposed to function as an ersatz clipboard. In addition to the obvious questions (name, address, date of birth) it asked me to articulate what my vaccine eligibility was to receive the vaccine under whatever criteria Santa Clara County was currently using. My only qualification to receive the vaccine now is that the county has opened the vaccine to everyone 16 and older, so I just wrote "all adults" on the form.

I waited at the ground-floor entrance to the field house standing at the side of the stadium, then entered for patient registration. (The intake person took pictures of each of the three pages of my intake form with a phone, then handed the original back to me.) They handed me a blue card saying I was getting my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, then pointed me up the escalators to the Yahoo! Fantasy Football Lounge on the third floor.

The lounge was a long shallow room spanning the depth of the fieldhouse, set up with taps behind multiple bars on the back walls to serve drinks on demand to people when the room was used for its intended purpose, with an expansive view of the field below, complete with a Yahoo! exclamation point hanging from the ceiling. Half of the lounge was filled with numbered tables of people giving shots; the other half was filled with spaced-out chairs where patients waited their 15 minutes post-vaccination observation period. (Next to the observation chairs I saw a couple of hospital beds set up in case anyone did have an immediate negative reaction to the shot, empty and half-hidden behind a curtain.) I waited in a short queue, then advanced along with nine other people to a different queue at the far side of the lounge, and finally advanced to the next open station (number 30, I believe, which was one of the last tables in the room), directly in front of the picture window overlooking the field around the 40 yard line.

Because I was getting the Pfizer vaccine, the system automatically scheduled my follow-up shot for three weeks hence, ending up on a Saturday afternoon again. Then I got the shot, and my sticker, and my vaccine card, and a note that my fifteen-minute observation period would be up at 14:04.

I got vaccinated at Levi's Stadium sticker
I got vaccinated at Levi's Stadium sticker

I followed the blue arrows laid out on the floor in painter's tape through the vaccination tables to the observation room. I found a chair right in front of the picture windows, where I could observe the field from the vicinity of the 20 yard line. I looked out over the empty field and waited my fifteen minutes, and took a moment to have an emotion in private as the gravity of this moment overtook me. This, finally, is the beginning of the end of the nightmare we've been living in for more than a year. I entered my second shot appointment on my calendar, and added another event two weeks later, on Saturday 22nd May, when I will have ALL THE ANTIBODIES. (This also happens to be the week we actually take possession of the house we're buying in Santa Cruz.)

After fifteen minutes, I left the observation room and took another escalator down to the exit. (I wondered, briefly, how long it's been since I've been on an escalator; and I think the answer is August last year, when I picked up the kids and flew them to San Jose.) Once I was outside the prohibition on pictures no longer seemed to apply so I got a post-vaccine selfie leaving the stadium.

Jaeger post-vaccine selfie at Levi's Stadium
Jaeger post-vaccine selfie at Levi's Stadium

As of the moment I write this, it's been just over twenty-four hours since I received my shot. The only physical side effect I've felt so far is a sore shoulder where I got my shot. The emotional side effects have been more pronounced: a profound sense of relief, and an urge to make plans once I'm fully vaccinated.

When the only tool you own is a hammer, every
problem begins to resemble a nail.