I read this meme the other day and it hit hard: “‘When this pandemic is over’ is starting to sound a lot like ‘when I save up enough money’ or ‘when I get my shit together.’” Luckily, the development of vaccines is a ray of hope presenting a key component to a Covid-free life one day.
The vaccine roll-out here in the U.S. has been a challenge at best, and a total chaos whirlwind at worst. Misinformation about the vaccines, confusion as to what government entity is responsible for what part of the effort, and where and how to sign up for your dose is enough to make you want to scream.
My experience with signing up and eventually getting my first dose of the Covid vaccine in the great state of Texas has been a journey. Saddle up with me, because it’s a ride!
Before the Holidays, rumblings were circulating on the news and my social media feeds that two hospitals in Dallas, my home, were receiving a few hundred to a thousand doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Our county health department set up an online system for signing up for the vaccine distribution wait-list. If you qualify for the designation marked “1-A”, you are given priority for the vaccine. This group included mainly medical personnel and frontline workers.
Not long afterward, around New Years, the wait-list registration website began to open for “1-B” – prioritizing those over 65, and those under 65 but with at least one of these underlying health conditions: Asthma/Respiratory Disorders, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Hypertension, Cancer, Autoimmune disorders and “Obesity.” Since I am fat and I live with a chronic autoimmune illness, I signed myself up. Thank the Universe, I am only 35 and in otherwise fair health.
Public health officials probably feel like they are learning to fly a plane while it’s in the air. To add to the frustration, information that is being offered to U.S. citizens (on how to sign up for this vaccine, or who qualifies for it, and where to go to receive it) lacks clarity. In Texas, our governor has essentially left the distribution up to very overwhelmed county health departments and individual cities, which has caused no small amount of confusion.
As one would sadly expect in our nation, the vaccine is much more accessible to predominantly white, privileged communities, and is not being equitably distributed amongst communities of color and those experiencing poverty. There are still millions of elderly and “high risk” citizens all over our country who have not yet received the vaccine and may not ever get it because they are unsure of how and where to sign up. Grassroots efforts are taking hold to give equal access and information to our POC and disabled communities.
The good news is that people are finally starting to be vaccinated. After only four weeks on the waitlist, I was shocked beyond belief to receive an email inviting me to a first dose appointment!
My Vax Day!
Despite the confusion of initial roll-out, my vaccine experience was as smooth as they come! A vacant store, an old Sears (RIP Malls!), was co-opted for the use of a Vaccination Hub – with dozens of EMTs, Firefighters and local volunteer nurses rallying together to vaccinate over 2,000 people a day. I was given a very specific time to arrive, and told not to arrive early or late. Within 5 minutes of my entry into the giant facility, I was seated with a delightfully good-looking EMT and administered my shot which took all of two seconds.
After waiting 15 minutes for any acute side effects to present, which they did not, I was set up with an appointment for my second dose. The whole process took less than 20 minutes – and I got a sticker, too! I proudly posted my victorious “vax-selfie” on my social media feed! Pro-tip: remember to not share any official personal medical forms or numbers if you do your own vax-selfie.
As far as side effects go, at the time of this writing, I am 48 hours post-first dose, and have not experienced any aside from a sore arm – very much like you get after receiving a flu shot. The soreness is easing by the hour, the more I massage it. Other possible side effects I was informed of were nausea, headache, runny or stuffy nose, and fatigue.
I asked the nurse attending the hub vaccination effort what she wishes people knew about this process. Here is what she said:
- These vaccines have so far been severe-side-effect free for the vast majority of those who receive it. While we lack the typical peer-reviewed empirical based studies on its long term efficacy or repercussions, we can be quite certain that it is safer to receive the vaccine than it is to not receive it and contract Covid19.
- The vaccines are free in the United States. If anyone is offering you a dose for money, run away.
- If you are offered a shot, take it. Don’t say no thinking that someone else deserves it more. We will all need our shots eventually.
- So far, the only available vaccines in the U.S. come in TWO doses. You must show up for your second dose in order for the vaccine to have full efficacy.
- You must SIGN UP for a vaccine distribution list. Call your county health department or visit their website for more information.
Haters Gonna Hate
I was not prepared for the wave of passive aggressive feedback I received after posting to social media about my vaccine. One of my former coworkers piped up and asked why I qualified for the shot, which I felt pressured to respond to for some reason, and I hesitantly disclosed my status as a sufferer of chronic autoimmune illness. Two more friends sent me sarcastic but hostile DMs like “Oh, screw you!” or “How did YOU get it and I haven’t?”. Another ‘friend’ expressed her shock that I qualified for a dose in part because of my fatness, adding unhelpfully, “Obesity shouldn’t qualify people as a risk factor since it’s just caused by poor diet and you really did it to yourself.” To say I was triggered would be putting it lightly.
These are people I know – my friends – who said these things, not randos on Instagram. I realize we are all hurting right now, and we want this pandemic to be over, but eventually we will all need to be vaccinated if we are to achieve immunity as a population. I have no idea why I was offered a dose before others, but I was told that I could not “give my dose up” to someone else, that it had to be me that received it, since it was in order of sign-up. Thankfully, the majority of my network was thrilled for me to be one step closer to safety, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to report about my experience to let others know what to expect. I’m glad I posted about it, if only to counter the dangerous amount of misinformation on the internet.
Fatness and Covid-19
There is a theory within the medical research community that fatness may be a risk factor for more severe symptoms of Covid, increased hospitalization and increased mortality. It is not known if this correlation is a direct result of the number of fat cells or if it is due to comorbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.
There is also a suggestion that anti-fat bias from medical professionals could play a role in the development of more severe symptoms due to general neglect from the physician or misdiagnosis in the early stages of Covid disease – a frequent experience to which any fat person can attest. We don’t know why there is this correlation – but to be safe, the WHO and CDC are recommending fatness (what they term “obesity” and use the oft-problematic BMI scale to measure) as a qualification into 1-B grouping for the US vaccine rollout.
My advice would be to not look a gift horse in the mouth. Take advantage of your access to a vaccine that could save your life. More nuanced conversations need to occur within the medical community around all aspects of fatness and how it’s approached by health care professionals. In the meantime, look out for yourself and your loved ones by prioritizing your own health – which means getting the vaccine if it is offered to you!
Get your Vax!
My second dose is in 3 weeks! I am so excited for this nightmare to potentially be behind us thanks to the hard work and coordinated efforts of health care workers and scientists all over the globe. To find out where to register online in the US, simply google your home county + covid vaccine, and follow the instructions within the official county website. This is a helpful link with information about how each state is planning their own rollouts. Please remember to advocate for yourself and your family as best as you can, because no one else will do it as well as you can.