VIRUS DIARY: Unpacking one vaccination day, step by step

WASHINGTON (AP) — The line stretched nearly a block long. Nobody was grumbling about the wait.

Those gathered at a senior wellness center in Washington, D.C., viewed it as a matter of life or death. The nation’s capital had just opened up coronavirus vaccines to people 65 and older because of their increased risk. I was among those who had a shot within reach.

In the nation’s capital, along with the rest of the country, coronavirus cases have surged since the holidays. More than 32,800 positive cases have been recorded overall in the city. Nearly 850 people have died. And now add fears that the mob insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month could turn into a superspreader event, adding to the totals.

People were on edge.

As I waited for my shot, I wondered if I should be there. The district had offered the vaccine first to health care workers, but were there others who should have come before me, people like teachers and workers in grocery stores and other businesses providing essential services during the pandemic? What about the older old — people over 75?

Yes, journalists are considered essential, and I also am a teacher at the college level. But equally important to me, I haven’t seen my grandson and his parents in California for more than a year — half his life — and l long to get on a plane to visit. And I do fit the new criteria for vaccines, people 65 and older.

So I was all in.

The city started offering appointments to the over-65 crowd Monday. I called up the website, filled in the questionnaire and looked for a location. The site closest to my home had no times available so I widened my search, finally choosing a senior center about 3 miles away.

Later, I checked my neighborhood listserv. It was filled with complaints from residents who found the whole process unwieldy and were furious that all the available appointments had been booked. A D.C. council member acknowledged that “the rollout came with a significant number of frustrations and challenges” but said there would be other opportunities for seniors to get the vaccine.

It’s an issue of supply and demand. There are just under 85,000 D.C. residents 65 and older who qualify for shots, but only 6,700 appointments were available the first week. I was one of the lucky ones.

It was cold, but the length of the line at the wellness center didn’t bother me. I was grateful that we were outside for much of the wait, and that people were voluntarily self-distancing. That was enforced once we moved inside. Everyone wore a mask.

Some people who were visibly frail were moved to front of the line. No one complained.

And while I waited, I worked. In a bit of irony, that meant consulting with a colleague on a story about the Trump administration’s push to expand vaccination to more people, including those over 65. The District of Columbia, it turns out, was ahead of the curve.

Ninety minutes after I arrived, I was given the Moderna vaccine, administered by a Safeway pharmacy manager brought in from Rehoboth, Delaware. After we talked about her hometown — a favorite beach vacation spot for my family — and other vaccinations I might need, she told me how to sign up for the second dose. Then I was sent to wait in another room to make sure I didn’t have a serious allergic reaction to the shot. I didn’t.

I get my second dose Feb. 10. I’ve already started thinking about booking that flight to California.

There’s only one negative — now everyone knows my age.

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Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow Washington-based AP news editor Carole Feldman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaroleFeldman