February 27th, 2021The Last Word: Another shot in the arm
On February 13 we received our second hits of vaccine and now we should be able to start living somewhat normal lives. After a year of COVID-19 restrictions, it’s difficult to come to reconcile that, at least on a personal level, our ordeal might be drawing to a conclusion.
Of course, as the US death toll from COVID-19 tops 500,000, our discomfort has been a small price to pay.
In our two-person household, Carol and I have been in a sort of isolation for almost a year. In that time, I’ve regularly spent time with my parents – dad, 92, and mum, 88 – we’ve allowed my brother and Carol’s sister to visit, and we have two mates who come over, but no one has been allowed to come into our house; we have a comfortable outdoor area where we entertain these few guests.
If that sounds extreme, consider that Shasta County, where we live, has a population of about 180,000 people and almost 11,000 reported cases of COVID-19, with a few dozen new cases being confirmed each and every day.
Now, with the second dose of Moderna vaccine in our arms, we decided to try living large again: we went to an actual restaurant, sat at a table, ordered off a menu – from a waitress – and when the food arrived, we removed our masks and ate our meals.
Full disclosure: it was a lovely, sunny afternoon and we sat outside at a socially distanced table. This was a restaurant we’d been patronising during our lockdown. They were one of the few in our area that had adopted – and enforced – mask-wearing rules for customers and staff, strictly limited indoor dining, and emphasised takeaway food.
Readers of The Local might remember our first shot of vaccine came about through an unlikely confluence of events involving a sister-in-law, a dog park, and an impromptu drive-through clinic based around a small local airport.
Shot No. 2 was much better organised. We were contacted via text message by the local county health department and told when and where we would receive our follow-up vaccination.
The “where” was another drive-through clinic, this time in the car park of our county’s version of the Melbourne Showgrounds – the Shasta District Fairgrounds, about 25 kilometres south of our home. All in all, it was entirely uneventful, especially if you consider the experience of a couple of friends of ours.
Our friends live in Santa Barbara, a beautiful city on the southern California coast. They are in their 60s, one is battling cancer, and they were eager to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In order to make this happen, however, they had to drive more than 230 kilometres north, to the city of Bakersfield: world renowned as the home of “the Bakersfield sound” as created by country music legend Buck Owens – but not much else.
If this seems a bit extreme, you need to understand that the previous federal government did its best to pretend the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax, and to ignore it in hopes it would all just quietly go away. Part of this strategy included refusing to come up with plans for distributing the vaccines.
Fortunately, American ingenuity came to the rescue. Anyone who has been to the US has probably noticed that there are few small, local chemist shops, just as there are almost no local butchers, greengrocers or milk bars. Instead, we have massive chain stores. The grocery store where we buy our food also has a complete pharmacy, and the pharmacy where we fill our prescriptions sells bread and milk. If you want a flu shot, you can go to the grocery store, or the pharmacy, or even to your doctor.
It only made sense, therefore, that if local government isn’t up to the task, COVID-19 vaccinations could be distributed through pharmacy chains. Which is why our friends from Santa Barbara ended up driving two-and-a-half hours to be jabbed at the Bakersfield branch of a massive pharmacy chain that happened to have available doses. We have another friend who is receiving his shots at a Safeway store, which means he only has to drive across town, and can pick up a head of lettuce, a jar of peanut butter and a six-pack of beer while he’s there.
With that in mind, we decided to look into having my parents shot – OK, it was tempting, but not like that. We logged on to the website of their preferred pharmacy chain and found slots available in an upcoming clinic. While there, my mother bought a package of adhesive bandages and my father bought a bag of sweets, and they were vaccinated.
My father had only one complaint: the makeshift waiting area for the clinic was directly opposite the store’s liquor department and he didn’t like having to look at all the bottles of wine – he’s supposed to be cutting down on his drinking.
Jeff Glorfeld is a former editor with The Age and journalist with The Local. A couple of years back Jeff, his wife Carol and their dog Scout moved from Wheatsheaf to California, USA to be with family. They have since adopted pooch Joey. Along with being happy to be vaccinated, Jeff hopes for a St Kilda premiership one day.