In late March, I received the first of two vaccinations for COVID-19 at a vaccination center in my hometown. As I pulled up to the mega-site, I was initially overwhelmed by the sea of cars and lines of people. I uttered a few expletives as I parked my car and walked toward the end of a very long line. To my surprise, the line moved swiftly. A cadre of personnel, police, and staff politely yet firmly and expeditiously directed the crowd through the front doors and the maze of barriers, tables, and chairs. I showed my appointment notification and ID and was swiftly, yet methodically guided through, what I thought would be a lengthy and tedious process.
I also observed a caring side of people that I thought had evaporated long ago. I noticed several senior citizens in the crowd. Some folks walked with canes or walkers, and I saw at least a dozen people in wheelchairs. Some seniors struggled to move along with the public. One elderly gentleman was confused as to where to go and what to do. A woman left her place in line and went back to assist the man. Another woman dropped her purse and other belongings as she struggled to access a wheelchair. Two other people and I helped her gather her belongings and open the seemingly defective wheelchair. Another man of color was anxious and nervous about getting the vaccine. He didn’t trust the government or the drug makers. He was afraid the vaccinations would make him sick. He had heard stories about the infamous Tuskegee (Alabama) Syphilis Study that stretched between 1932 and 1972. The government’s shameful ploy targeted African American men with the lie of free health care in exchange for their unwitting participation in unusual and unethical experiments involving syphilis. More than 100 men died from the now infamous and deemed morally corrupt “government study.” After some discussion, I think I managed to calm some of his fears. I convinced him that COVID-19 was unlike the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Being an African American man in New Jersey in 2021 is different from being an African American man in Alabama between 1932 and 1972. I told him history was not repeating itself, at least not in this case.
When I reached the vaccination table, a young man named Gil administered my shot. He pinched my arm with a syringe. Slapped a band-aid on the tiny puncture wound and sent me on my way. The whole thing took about 30 seconds. I sat in a waiting area for about 15 minutes to see if I had any immediate side effects, which I did not—other than a slightly sore arm. During my 15 minute respite, a young woman scheduled my appointment for the second vaccination—at the same time a few weeks later. I said to myself, “I’m half way there!” Three weeks later, I repeated the same process, and this time, it went even better and smoother than the first. I exhaled. When I got into my car, I loudly and unapologetically shouted, “F U COVID!”
Finally, while it may not be the wisest or best thing to do just hours after receiving a vaccination, I poured myself a glass of champagne. After a year of living behind face masks, waving from afar to people I love and want to embrace: and having my creative juices and literary influences severely stilted and, in some cases, shattered–I rejoiced. Donald Trump said injecting bleach or disinfectant would stop the coronavirus. Who knows! Maybe imbibing a great big glass of bubbly champagne after being fully vaccinated from the deadly virus will strengthen the vaccine’s long-term effects! It sounds good to me!! Cheers!!