It’s 8:45 a.m. on a weekday in Washington, D.C., and if anyone needs a reminder why the coronavirus vaccine is important, there’s one arriving at the Takoma Metro stop: an almost empty train pulling up to an almost empty subway platform at the height of rush hour.
One year ago the World Health Organization held its first news conference on a new coronavirus emerging from Wuhan, China. Incredibly, I’m on my way to mark that anniversary by joining some six million Americans who have already been vaccinated.
As I board the train, there are five other passengers on a car with 62 seats. I take my place as far from each of the others as I can — much as they must have when they boarded — reminded of the importance of social distancing by a metallic voice emanating from overhead speakers: “Facial coverings are required at all times while riding Metrorail and Metrobus.” Everyone is, indeed, masked.
I’m traveling across town to a location that’s dispensing COVID-19 shots two-trains-and-a-bus-ride away from my home: The Washington Senior Wellness Center. When I logged onto the District’s vaccination website to make my appointment in the first hour that doing so was possible, the two dozen closer locations already had no reservations left. This is the first time people over 65 are eligible, and by day’s end, all available slots had been snapped up, all across the District.
So I’m lucky. As are the 17 people lined up before me when the center opens at 10 a.m. — “opens” being a relative term, since we’re still lined up outside on this brisk January morning. Until your appointment time is just a couple of minutes away, you stay outside.
Inside, things are bright and socially distanced. The pharmacists are dispensing the Moderna vaccine (which does not have to be kept insanely cold), and the process at this center is so efficient it seems almost anticlimactic: a form to sign, a pinprick, and about 90 seconds after I enter the room, I get a sticker saying “vaccinated.” Sort of an adult lollipop to take home.
I’m told to come back in four weeks for a booster shot that will make me as protected as I’ll ever be. And that, I guess, is that.
It all reminded me of a friend’s observation that the most important home renovation he’d ever done, replacing his roof, was also the least satisfying. Before he did it, he had a roof. After he did it, he’d spent $30,000, and he had a roof.
This feels a little like that. I have not gotten sick with the coronavirus. And now that I’ve gotten the first of my two shots, the chances that I’ll get sick are much diminished. That’s good, because I’m old enough to be at heightened risk of dying.
But society is still at risk, so it won’t change the fact that I’ll need to wear masks, stay six feet away from people, and avoid crowds until most of the public has been vaccinated, too.
It’s enormously important, this protective roof I’ve put on my own risk. A miracle provided by medical professionals to whom I am profoundly grateful for putting me back where we all started.