I’m 26, walk 3 miles a day, have no underlying conditions and I’m not an essential worker on the front lines — but I just scored the coveted COVID-19 vaccine. Wondering how that happened? Yeah, so am I.
While sitting in the lobby of a Brooklyn clinic Friday, waiting for my coronavirus test appointment, I overheard a man quietly speaking to someone on the other side of a door. “We have one dose left — is there anyone in the building who wants it?”
I jumped and screamed “Me!”
He turned and looked at me, nodded, and led me upstairs to a room with a cloth screen and a folding table. A nurse then talked me through the process of filling out an online registration and a double-sided paper form before offering further details — I would be getting the Moderna vaccine, the last dose from their last vial of the day.
Sure, I jumped at the chance to take it ahead of the elderly and other vulnerable groups — it would’ve been trashed if I hadn’t. In a testament to the failure of US supply chains — the vaccine rollout has been so sloppy — I suspect situations like mine aren’t rare at all.
The reason they offered it to me was because the health-care worker it was intended for missed their appointment, the 10-dose vial only had a shelf life of six hours and they were about to close for the day. No, the nurse had not heard about that guy in a DC supermarket who this also happened to. No, there was no one more vulnerable to COVID than me available via an on-call waitlist to take it — there was no one else available, period.
It was my arm or the garbage.
I headed behind the screen and greeted another nurse, who had me roll up my sleeve as she loaded the syringe. I told her I felt giddy with excitement, overcome with gratitude, and that this experience reminded me of the immersive off-Broadway play “Sleep No More,” in which actors whisk audience members into otherwise off-limits rooms for clandestine-feeling private performances. She was not familiar with the show, but she understood how I felt in that moment: Here, behind the curtain, on the verge of inoculation from this deadly disease which has forever altered society and continues to wreak havoc on humanity, many people had broken down and cried, she said. They, too, were overcome with gratitude.
She stuck the needle in my arm.
I kept blabbering about the pandemic, how thankful I was for this moment, how historic it felt. She listened and nodded, then sent me to sit in a chair by the room’s entrance while we waited 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have any immediate adverse reactions.
I was texting the news to my family group chat when the first nurse handed me a card with my name and the date on it, and told me to bring it when I came back — to this location or another one, didn’t matter — to get my second Moderna shot in a month.
“You saved the dose,” she said as I headed for the stairs.
I breathlessly thanked everyone I passed on my way out of the building and skipped home, feeling more like I’d just experienced interactive theater than medical protocol.
A series of conflicting policies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and state make what to do with extra vaccines unclear and a contentious, fine-able offense. The FDA’s formal policy warns: “Discard vial after 6 hours. Do not refreeze.” So, those nurses were likely expected to discard my shot rather than use it to inoculate my not-yet-demographically eligible life.
There is absolutely no reason I should be vaccinated ahead of my immunocompromised grandparents, who are patiently if anxiously awaiting their turn to get the vaccine, nor is there a reason doses should be getting tossed or sitting unused. The American vaccine rollout has been a disgrace, but then, did we really expect anything different to cap off this pandemic, which in the US has been defined as much by the novel virus as it has been by the impact of governmental failure on individuals?
Reps. for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for NYC Health + Hospitals told The Post it is “following all state guidance regarding ‘end of the day’ doses. Your experience fits with the guidance that was propagated by the state.”
When the coronavirus first gripped New York, it was met by an outpouring of support for essential and front-line workers: Flowers appeared on morgue trucks with hand-painted rainbows thanking nurses; the city came out at 7 p.m. to bang on pans in a loud display of gratitude.
Now, as the other side of this disease increasingly comes into focus, it is once again health-care workers who are personally bearing the brunt — by making the tough decision to follow federal guidelines and chuck a dose or follow their guts and possibly save a life.