By Don Nelson
It was snowing at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, which were empty and quiet but for the long line of vehicles queuing up between the horse barns and the rodeo arena on their way into the Agriplex building.
The single-lane procession stretched back to the fairgrounds’ north gate, off of Rodeo Trail Road and just past the electronic vaccinations-by-reservation-only sign. I was the last one in line for only a few seconds, as I watched the string of vehicles lengthening behind me in the rearview mirror.
I was there for the same reason as most others: to get my first COVID vaccine shot, at a clinic offered by Mid-Valley Hospital. I drove over the Loup from Twisp on Thursday afternoon because it was the first opportunity I had to receive the initial vaccination. You do what you have to do.
Progress was slow but steady as the vehicles moved into the Agriplex, where the doses were administered. There was nothing to do but be patient, which in the greater scheme of things was not a lot to ask.
Along the way, staffers or volunteers — bundled up against the weather, which was cold and breezy in addition to snowy — checked the printed forms we were required to bring, then waved us on. They were polite and efficient. I thanked each of them for being there.
Eventually I was inside the Agriplex, out of the elements. I rolled down a window, rolled up a sleeve, and it was done. For all the angst and uncertainty surrounding the vaccination efforts, here and around the country, it came down to that: a brief, friendly conversation, a quick, painless poke in the arm, a band-aid. Then, back into another line to wait the required 15 minutes to ensure you do not have any immediate problematic reactions.
For once, age gave me an advantage, as I’m in a high-priority group for vaccination. I signed up in a couple of places, as did a lot of people. I didn’t ask for special treatment, or try to jump the line. Mid-Valley was the first to contact me, via text on my cell phone. All of the subsequent communication was electronic. I didn’t talk to a human being until I got the fairgrounds.
If all goes as planned, I’ll go back in three weeks for the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine that Mid-Valley administered. My after-effects were minimal: a little muscle ache, a bit of fatigue. My arm doesn’t even hurt. We’re told that the second one sometimes causes more pronounced reactions. I’m not worried.
Since then, I have shared the same feelings as others I know who have been vaccinated at least once: gratitude, relief, perhaps a twinge of hope. But I know better than to be overconfident.
This week, the U.S. coronavirus death toll passed 500,000. That’s staggering. There are thousands more to come. Variants that may render some vaccinations moot are popping up around the country. Ongoing resistance to wearing masks and/or getting vaccinated will extend the time required to bring the pandemic under something resembling control.
There is still much to be done before that is accomplished. I don’t feel like letting my guard down much, until many more people have been double-dosed with the vaccine and the infection curve flattens appreciably. That’s going to take many more months.
I suspect that in the meantime, some people who have had both shots may adopt a “can’t get it, can’t give it” attitude and stop wearing masks in public as often. But how will we be able to tell them from unvaccinated people who don’t want to wear a mask?
A year in, we’ve probably got another year to go before we approach the new normal. I’m as eager as anyone to see our businesses get back to full capacity, our community events back on the schedule, our schools back to a regular learning routine.
Each of us has a role in making that happen. As I waited in the post-vaccination line at the fairgrounds, it occurred to me that this is how recovery will happen: one person at a time, one shot at a time, one moment of interaction, repeated millions of times. That’s how we will get through this. It’s a challenge unlike anything this nation has faced. It didn’t have to be this way, but the negligence and ignorance that got us to this point are irrelevant. All we can do is keep moving forward, knowing that we’ll eventually get where we’re headed. So get in line, get your shots, be part of the solution.