Surprise: vaccines are on my mind

With “Have you had your first shot?” leading off most conversations these days, thank goodness it’s becoming easier to find an appointment for a COVID vaccination. “I think I’m the only Chicagoan over 65 who hasn’t found an appointment,” a friend grumbled a couple of days before he snared one. He wasn’t really alone; only about one in three Chicago seniors has received a first dose of vaccine. 

My friend succeeded the same way I and my sister in Milwaukee did, by checking the Walgreens website every so often. We were all lucky to go to the site just when it was updated with new appointments. I can’t recommend a particular time to try. I wouldn’t try continuously because, as my friend experienced, it can work you into a lather.

A couple of friends were waiting for their healthcare providers to contact them about vaccine availability. I never heard from my healthcare provider. Zoodoc, with whom Chicago announced a partnership in early February to inform residents of vaccine availability, did not send me a notice until nine days after I’d found a vaccine on my own. 

My unvaccinated friends have decided to stop waiting for an email and to take the initiative. They can use the internet and fend for themselves. None of them is likely to fall through the cracks, especially with mass vaccination sites opening. 

I think about childless elderly people who live alone and do not have internet access. If it were two years ago, when my dad was alive and he and my mom were living independently, they wouldn’t have known what to do. They didn’t have a cellphone or a computer. They would have relied on us, but what about the very old people who don’t have children? 

The variation from state to state is maddening. My sister and brother-in-law in Indiana, who are in their mid-50s, were vaccinated last weekend after Indiana lowered its eligibility age to 50. That mollified my brother-in-law, a high school teacher, who had been irritated that Indiana didn’t consider teachers a high priority for a vaccine. 

In Illinois, teachers are in category 1b, the one currently getting the attention, but my 61-year-old sister-in-law with autoimmune disease is not. She has to wait for the age eligibility to be lowered.

My sister and brother-in-law were more than happy to get the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as I would have been, but I’ve spoken with people who would have passed it up because its effectiveness statistics don’t match Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. The vaccines were tested under different conditions and should not be compared. It’s good enough that they keep us out of the hospital or the morgue. We don’t demand that the flu vaccine be 100 percent effective.

As we’re being vaccinated, we wait for answers about whether we can still transmit the virus; when we can let up on masks and social distancing; when we’ll be able to go to concerts and plays again; how we can stay safe before the rest of the world is vaccinated; when it will be safe to travel out of the country; and whether we’ll need booster shots down the road. 

*****

Whenever I think that my birth religion, Roman Catholicism, can’t upset me anymore, it does. 

As the country was cheering the release of a third COVID vaccine, Johnson & Johnson’s, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops counseled the faithful to avoid it because it uses abortion-derived cell lines.

The bishops said that Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen if people can choose. People lucky to secure scare appointments don’t have a choice of vaccine. The bishops’ statement came as health authorities were advising people to take any vaccine available because it’s important to be vaccinated as soon as possible. 

The pandemic has claimed more than half a million lives in this country. US Catholic bishops might take a cue from Pope Francis himself, who has said that it is more urgent to save lives than to worry about cell lines.

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