WARNING: May cause feelings of guilt

My unexpected side effects from the moderna covid-19 vaccine

When my 75 year-old mom and I got our first doses of the Moderna vaccine last week, I was so focused on getting us there on time with all the right paperwork that I never stopped to think how I actually felt about any of it. If anything, I was starting to feel a sense of relief for the first time in 10 months — relief that in several weeks, her life could start to get back to something that looks a little more like normal. Between her utter fear of the virus and two hip surgeries, she has barely left her home the entire pandemic. Hospitals, medical appointments and the occasional visit to my house have been her only outings. At this point, a trip to the grocery store would feel like a luxury vacation.

As her caretaker (and basically her only lifeline to the outside world at this point), I qualified for the vaccine in Georgia’s current Phase 1A. And Mom insisted that I get it so she would feel safer when I come over to help around her apartment or take her to see the doctor. But in a broken system that has tried to prioritize the most at risk — and failed at an alarming rate — I couldn’t help but wonder: Did I really deserve to get the vaccine now?

While Atlanta Public Schools teachers returned to the classroom this week unvaccinated, I continue to work safely from home. While my 94 year-old father-in-law still waits uncertainly for a team to bring the vaccine to his retirement community, CDC is already collecting my reaction data. While others with health conditions that make contracting COVID-19 more dangerous wait for the next phase and hope there’s enough vaccine to go around, I (in perfect health, save for my quarantine 10) am marking my calendar for my second dose.

So yeah, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty — like I had somehow cheated the system or that I was stealing a dose of this liquid gold that would make a much bigger impact on someone else’s life. Let’s be honest, even after shot two in a few weeks, my day-to-day isn’t really changing anytime soon. With my husband and daughter unvaccinated, we’ll still have to be careful. You won’t see me out at the club, but you may run into me at Publix or Home Depot more often. I won’t head back to the gym, but may feel safe enough to see the dentist for the first time in a year.

But that system I felt I’d cheated is a hot mess. In Fulton County, getting an appointment was like The Hunger Games. They open up appointments for each week and only that week sometime the weekend before. And of course, they never say when. We spent two full weekends hitting refresh on the page every hour or so to see if new appointment times were posted. As soon as they were posted, they were snapped up before we could fill out the form.

Both of us had signed up for emails in multiple places, but never received any until finally, late in the afternoon on the second Sunday, notice came (only to me) that appointments at two locations were open. I didn’t care if I had to drive to the mother-effing exurbs, we were going. I somehow managed to get two appointments at the same place at the same time. We’d cleared hurdle one, but feared we’d be back in the same boat in a few weeks, as word on the street was that you basically had to hope and hit refresh all over again to get your second appointment.

Mom, who we moved down to Atlanta from Virginia in May after she broke her hip, has not driven since she’s been here and still carries a Virginia driver’s license. Would anyone question her residency? What documents did we need to bring to prove she really lives here? She spent the next several days gathering paperwork to cover any questions anyone might ask, while I wondered if I would get grilled about what care-taking activities I actually perform. We could not even begin to think about what we would do if we got there and were turned away for some reason.

Quite to the contrary, when we showed up for our appointments, I got the feeling they would have vaccinated anyone who showed up. Somehow, I was not on the list, but upon presenting my confirmation email, was told to write down my name and phone number. And with that, I was on the list. No one checked an I.D. or asked a single question to ensure we really were supposed to be there. Just sign this waiver . . . go wait over there and the next thing we knew, we were doing our 15-minute recovery wait and, blissfully, making our second appointments.

In the scheme of things, I feel like we were lucky. The rollout should be faster and more organized everywhere and it is shocking, yet unsurprising, that the last administration had no plan. I hope for everyone that the pace will accelerate soon.

As for my guilt, it stays mostly under the surface, only creeping out when I see a news story about scared seniors who can’t get appointments or teachers who worry that going to work is a death sentence. On the other hand, I feel completely vindicated seeing stories like the one about the stranded motorists in Oregon randomly getting the vaccine during a snowstorm. They surely were not more deserving. And this New York Times piece showed up in my email right on time, assuring me that “declining a Covid-19 shot because you think it should go to someone else won’t help anyone.”

The truth is that the faster more of us get vaccinated, the safer we all will be and the greater the chances of getting this thing under control sometime this year. Because of the broken system, in which being at the right place at the right time can play as big a role as the government’s rollout protocol, there’s no guarantee a dose you turn down will go to someone more deserving or at higher risk. And it’s entirely possible that you underestimate your own risk, given that we still don’t fully understand how this coronavirus works and, at times, seems to deliver its vengeance without rhyme or reason.

So go get the vaccine as soon as you can, and get over yourself. Doctor’s orders.*

*I’m not a doctor, but I play one on my blog.

First published on Vocal.

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