1,500 miles for a COVID shot

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I traveled almost 1,500 miles to get a COVID vaccination shot.

Thanks to Florida, I got it.

Thereby hangs a tale.

Back in January, vaccines had been reserved for people at high risk of becoming very ill if infected. I qualify, easily.

Medically speaking, I am a wreck: heart attacks, cancer, emphysema, and pre-diabetes. To boot, I am age 78.

So I got my first jab of Pfizer's COVID vaccine on Jan. 25, in western Pennsylvania, where we live for 10 months a year.

"Come back on Feb. 15 for your second dose," they said.

I didn't say anything out loud.

I planned to be in Florida Feb. 1 through March 31. Could I get my second dose here?

Not as of Jan. 25. Florida then sternly said "COVID tourists" would be firmly told to go back home.

That made sense, as a start. Floridians can be stern. But they are not stupid.

Tourists mean jobs. As more vaccine became available, eligibility rules expanded. As we drove south, news reports were that "something might be worked out" for seasonal residents.

By Feb. 15, the target date for my second dose, Florida agreed to vaccinate people over 65 with proofs of seasonal residence.

Programmatically, I was "in."

Just one problem: No Pfizer vaccine was available nearby.

The other vaccine at the time, Moderna's, was being offered in the Florida Panhandle.

"Wait; we'll get some Pfizer and tell you how to get it," was the encouraging message from the state-level department of health and Franklin County's department.

So I waited. As scientists learned more about the vaccines, those target "deadlines" became more elastic. My second dose window expanded through March 7 to 13.

I signed up online through dozens of Florida's 67 counties and private-sector pharmacies. Then came another wrinkle. The Arctic freeze that wrecked Texas in February also stopped shipments of vaccine through the frozen Midwest to Florida.

So I sat, 1,147 miles from our home in Pennsylvania, scanning for "available" notices.

On March 1, the phone rang. I could get a second Pfizer dose on Wednesday, March 3 at 3 p.m., if I didn't mind driving 300 miles to parking Lot 14 of Raymond James Stadium in downtown Tampa.

I didn't mind. Driving is preferable to getting COVID.

When I got to Tampa, I must have been expecting a reprise of the single line in DuBois, Pennsylvania treating perhaps 10 of us per hour.

"Wowsers!" I said when I saw the parking lot. There were eight big canopies, two car lanes per canopies, traffic ushered along by hundreds of National Guard troops.

They were civil, polite -- and all business. They might have processed 10,000 of us in just that day. Huge, by my small-town reckoning. Then again, Tampa's Hillsborough County has 1.5 million residents, plus those of us from elsewhere.

The actual vaccinations were given while I sat in my truck, driver-side window down. That led to a goofy exchange with a no-nonsense, bugle-voiced nurse.

"Roll up your sleeve, Sir."

"OK, ma'am, it is rolled up."

"Sir, that is NOT rolled up! When I say rolled up, I want to see the TOP of your shoulder!"

"Umm... ma'am... this is a thick cotton shirt. It won't roll... "

She gave me a drill sergeant stare. I am easily intimidated by drill sergeants.

"Oh. OH! Let me take it off, ma'am, this darn button, yank, pull... there! Shirt is off."

"Get that T-shirt sleeve UP... NOW!"

"Yes... MA'AM!"

I almost managed to salute while yanking my sleeve nearly to my neck.

Then, wipe, jab, bandage. "Have a nice day, Sir!"

Not bad, really. Arrive at 1:10. Close-order shirt drill and injection at 1:30. Wait the obligatory 30 minutes, and get on my way.

I am COVID-proofed, after a fashion. Nobody yet knows how long the immunity lasts, or whether mutations will bypass vaccine-induced antibodies.

But I got it.

Driving the 300 miles back to Apalachicola, I heard a news report that President Biden wants every American to have at least one vaccination by May.

That means that, had I been patient, I might not have needed to worry all the way to Florida, drive to and from Tampa, all those anxious on-line registrations in umpteen Florida sites.

Then again, had I been patient, I could have become a patient. I have seen people on ventilators. No, thank you.

By the time we return north, the vaccine should have fully immunized me. However, I intend to keep wearing a mask in close quarters. That's my choice.

I like myself. That is why I put the effort into getting vaccinated.

I like you folks, too. That's why I'll keep my mask handy.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor and publisher at daily and weekly newspapers in western Pennsylvania. He winters in Apalachicola. Email: notniceman9@gmail.com

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: 1,500 miles for a COVID shot

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