I won the coronavirus vaccine lottery this week.
That’s after a frustrating seven hours fruitlessly alternating between my laptop and phone in a bid to snag an appointment with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas.
There I was Monday, trying to coax the department’s website to respond favorably instead of repeatedly spitting out annoying “server busy” and “bad request” notices.
As for the phone, it was constantly busy, then mysteriously, I was told the number was not in service. How could that be? I kept redialing.
I was determined to circumvent the gremlins. My husband was amused and later sympathetic as I read a tweet from the Health Department that said it was aware of the problems and was “working to promptly resolve the issues.” Some who read it tweeted their annoyance.
Let me digress and talk about communicating by tweet to so-called “seniors,” the designated group for this week’s vaccine appointments. Not everyone who is 65 and older – approximately 250,000 strong in Pinellas County – has a Twitter account or can navigate the internet to get important updates on the coronavirus vaccine and other matters.
Back to my quest to get an appointment. The next day, I awoke with renewed zeal, determined that I would pre-register even if it meant parachuting into another county. I just happened to hear a TV report that morning that said vaccine appointments were again being made, this time by phone only. It took several tries and I was shocked to reach an actual person before 9 a.m. In my excitement, I could barely remember my name. Speaking of names, it was quite the exercise to get the woman taking my call to understand how to spell mine. That’s “n” as in Nancy, I said several times to the puzzled person on the other end. Then again, she was probably already frazzled from the frantic calls she’d already handled before mine. Who can blame her?
The good news was that I was able to get appointments for my husband and me later that day. The scene at the Health Department was unlike the confusion that permeated the registration process. Outside, a line of hopefuls waited to get appointments. We, among the lucky ones, were quickly ushered in, handed clipboards to complete paperwork and got our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The longest wait was the required 15 minutes of observation after the inoculation. We departed with a date for our second dose.
That day, the Health Department said it would not be accepting new appointments, “as we have scheduled for our existing stocks of vaccine.”
Things should get better. The Health Department and Pinellas County will team up to make pre-registration less stressful. The county has also launched its own vaccination resource page, https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/vaccines/, that will be available in Spanish as well. There’s also a plan to add more vaccination sites, which should make it easier to meet the demand of those eager to be inoculated.
Still, there are plenty of people who’ll have to be convinced. Pastor G. Gregg Murray of Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church says he is trying to encourage his congregation to roll up their sleeves.
“I’ve been speaking to their fears and I understand their fears,” he said, mentioning the infamous Tuskegee syphilis trials that victimized poor Black men.
He’s also heard from church members and others in the African-American community about concerns that the vaccine was developed too quickly and “that it will kill Black folks.”
Unfortunately, Murray himself has contracted the virus. “I got tested at the VA last Sunday,” the Navy veteran said. “I thought I was having bronchitis issues.”
He said his case is mild and that he’s quarantining at home, with a VA nurse monitoring him daily. He’s concerned about his new fiancé, who has lupus, an autoimmune disease, but she’s since tested negative for Covid-19.
It was on Christmas Day that he got down on his knees in front of a small group of family and friends and asked longtime St. Petersburg resident Pauline Richmond to marry him. He said they remained at the gathering for just a short time.
Murray, who has continued to hold socially distanced, in-person services throughout the pandemic, told me he feels it’s his responsibility to let his congregation know that he would take the vaccine when it’s offered.
“We owe it to ourselves and to others,” he said. “It would be a way we could get this virus under control. Let’s protect ourselves. Let’s protect our community.”
As for me, I’m grateful to have gotten the vaccine and feel it puts me a step closer to a yearned-for family reunion with our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. We haven’t embraced each other for more than a year.
My sentiments are not unique. As Floridians of a certain age waited in recent days for a chance to get the vaccine – some for long hours and even overnight – the explanation that most resonated with me was: “I want to see my grandchildren.”