Traveling More Than 1,600 Miles For A Shot

I traveled more than 1,600 miles to get a COVID vaccination shot.

Thereby hangs a tale.

Back in January, vaccines were reserved for people at high risk of becoming very ill if infected.

Medically speaking, I am a wreck: heart attacks, cancer, emphysema, and pre-diabetes. To boot, I am age 78.

I qualify, easily.

On Jan. 25, I drove the 30 miles from home in Brookville to the DuBois Alliance Church gym/hall and got my first Pfizer vaccine. The injection itself was a breeze, with a bit of arm soreness as the only noticeable side effect. The nurses, EMTs and other staff members were cheerful, kind and delightfully patient with us.

“Come back on Feb. 15 for your second dose,” they said.

I didn’t say anything out loud. I planned to be in Florida through March 31. Could I get my second dose there?

Not as of Jan. 25, I couldn’t. States were just working out their eligibility requirements. Naturally, “take care of our own” was a top priority. Florida sternly said “COVID tourists” hopping into the Sunshine State just to jump into vaccination lines would be firmly sent back home.

Floridians can be stern. But they are not stupid. Tourists mean jobs.

As we drove south, news reports were that “something might be worked out” for seasonal residents.

By Feb. 15, the target date for my second dose, Florida’s rules had expanded to include people over 65 with proofs of seasonal residence.

Programmatically, I was “in.”

Just one problem: No available vaccine.

First doses were being reserved for people who had gotten their first doses in Florida, not Pennsylvania. Oops.

At the time, there were two vaccines, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. Guess which version was being offered throughout the Florida Panhandle where we stayed? Spoiler alert: It wasn’t Pfizer’s.

So I waited. Feb. 15 came and went. As scientists learned more about COVID and the vaccines, “deadlines” became more elastic. Florida agreed to dispense second doses. My window expanded through March 7-13.

I signed up on line through dozens of Florida’s 67 counties, and private-sector pharmacies. Then came another wrinkle.

The Arctic deep freeze that wrecked Texas in mid-February also stopped shipments of vaccine through the frozen Midwest to Florida. By month’s end, that too started to ease.

So I sat, 1,147 miles from our home in Brookville, scanning for “available” notices.

On March 1, the phone rang. I could get a second Pfizer dose on March 3 at 3 p.m., if I didn’t mind driving 300 miles to Raymond James Stadium in downtown Tampa, and an equal distance back to our winter residence in Apalachicola.

I didn’t mind.

Subconsciously, I must have been expecting a reprise of the one line in DuBois.

“Wowsers!” I said when I saw the stadium’s parking lot. EIGHT canopies, two car lanes per canopies, ushered along by National Guard troops in the hundreds.

In DuBois, there had been take-my arm personal guidance and soft, soothing talk.

In Tampa, they were civil, polite — and all business. They could have processed 10,000 of us. Then again, Tampa’s Hillsborough County has 1.5 million residents, plus those of us from elsewhere, so they needed huge set-ups.

The actual vaccinations were given while I sat in my truck, driver-side window down. That led to a goofy exchange

“Roll up your sleeve, Sir.”

“OK, ma’am, it is rolled up.”

“Sir, that is NOT rolled up! When I say rolled up, I mean I want to see the TOP of your shoulder!”

“Umm … ma’am … this is a thick cotton shirt. It won’t roll … “

Drill sergeant stare.

“Oh. OH! Just let me take it off, ma’am, this darn button, yank, pull … there! Shirt is off.”

“Get that T-shirt sleeve UP … NOW!”

“Yes … MA’AM!”

I almost managed to salute while yanking my sleeve nearly to my neck.

Then, wipe, jab, bandage.

“Have a nice day, Sir!” Not bad, really. Arrive at 1:10. Then, close-order shirt drill and injection at 1:30. Wait the obligatory 30 minutes, and get on my way.

I am COVID-proofed, after a fashion. Nobody yet knows how long the immunity lasts, or whether mutations will bypass vaccine-induced antibodies.

But I got it.

Driving the 300 miles back to our winter quarters, I heard a news report that President Biden wants every American to have at least one vaccination by May.

That means that, had I been patient, I might not have had to do all that driving to and from Tampa, all that anxious filling out of on-line registrations in umpteen Florida sites.

Then again, had I been patient, I could have become a patient. I have seen people on ventilators. No, thank you.

By the time we return north, I should be immunized. However, I intend to keep wearing a mask in close quarters. That’s my choice.

I like myself. That is why I put the effort into getting vaccinated.

I like you folks, too. That’s why I’ll keep my mask handy.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: notniceman9@gmail.com


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