From the National Guard soldier who opened the Alerus Center door for me to the public health nurse who was gentle, pleasant and efficient, the COVID-19 vaccination process was about as smooth as it could be.
I know from news reports that the vaccination campaign has been bumpier elsewhere, with people sitting in mile-long car lanes waiting for the protection and peace of mind that a vaccine offers.
Here, too, as the system works through the categories of vaccine priority, people wait with hope, anxiety and maybe a little impatience – mostly hope, I think, and concern.
Sons and daughters, still waiting their turns, are celebrating. “I’m posting this because I want to remember it: Today my 73-year-old mother got her first shot of the Moderna vaccine,” one woman wrote recently on Facebook. “The first in our family to get it.”
And another friend shouted to the world, “So happy to receive my first covid vaccine. My son … called to find out when I’ll be coming to meet my youngest granddaughter.”
And there was this, from a younger citizen: “I hope my dad can get his shot soon, too,” he wrote. “I worry about him if he got covid because of his health issues, but he’s not old enough to qualify for the vaccine yet.”
With a couple of underlying conditions, I was old enough to get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine last week. Unless the protocols change, I’ll receive the second late this month. Then, as I told my UND students the other day, I’ll be able to look at them not as existential threats. They seemed pleased.
I was happy to wait my turn, after first responders and people 75 and older. Frankly, I would have waited a while longer so teachers could get vaccinated and kids can rub elbows and learn how to play nice together again.
The soldier who welcomed me inside the great hall told me which line to join, the shortest of course. Then, when the next line moved faster and became shorter, a woman not in uniform but who also wore authority with a smile invited me to move there. A minute later, just as I had taken off my jacket and rolled up a sleeve, I was summoned – with a smile – to the vaccination table. Two or three quick questions, then a barely noticeable needle stick and an honest advisory. “There will be some arm soreness, for sure,” the nice needle lady said.
“Small price,” I thought, smiling.
I left to join dozens of my fellows in the waiting area, but stopped when I heard the man who had asked me about allergies and such call me back. Did he think I had lied about something? Did they just discover they had given me a dose of something meant for large animals?
I had left my jacket behind.
What struck me about the setup at the Alerus was that it seemed almost joyful for people as we flowed through. Friends and neighbors greeted and congratulated each other. We sat in the post-vaccination waiting area, spaced out, for the prescribed 15 minutes of caution, and smiled.
Kathy Fick, a retired campus pastor, was smiling as she left with husband John. Later, Kathy posted a delightful assessment of the experience on Facebook:
“A friend called and asked how it had gone,” she wrote. “I told her it was like the best of church. Greeters as we entered, ushers to tell us where to go, a ‘bulletin’ with all the info we needed, and the ritual of vaccination had me wanting to say ‘Amen!’ after I received it. Some lovely social time after the service as we waited together, and an invitation to return again in three weeks. Lovely!”
For me, it was like going to vote.
We strode in, friends and neighbors, by ones and twos, with a sense of purpose, did our duty and marched out with a sense of accomplishment. There was pride in it. And community.
It reminded me how I missed voting in person on voting day, the exercise of democracy that is both individual and communal. I understand and support the movement to early voting and voting by mail, meant to ensure that all with the right and desire to vote may, but I do miss the shared solemnity of Election Day.
This time we get a small bandage, not an “I voted” sticker.
But we’re voting – for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and co-workers – for hugs and high fives – for tomorrows and next Thanksgiving, next Christmas, whatever’s next.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.