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Getting first shot gives me side effect of hope

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was one of those glorious New Mexico mornings when the blue of the sky and the bright of the sun augured the end of a long winter and the coming of spring.

It was Saturday, and everything felt hopeful, joyful, unbound.

I was off to get my first COVID-19 vaccine.

It came as a surprise. Last Wednesday evening, I was scrolling through my cellphone in my car, waiting for a curbside pickup, as one does in pandemic life, when up popped the text alert.

“Notice from DOH to Joline,” it read. “Vaccine is now available at a location near you, and sign-up is on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

It was like winning the lottery, which, given the seeming randomness of the vaccine selection process, it is.

Joline Gutierrez Krueger receives her first COVID-19 vaccine Saturday at the University of New Mexico Pit. You cant tell, but under my mask I am smiling, she says. (JOLINE GUTIERREZ KRUEGER/JOURNAL)

But I hadn’t won anything yet. Even though I immediately fumbled through the process of signing up for the only available event listed — Saturday at the University of New Mexico Pit — time slots were filling up fast. Still, I snagged an 11 a.m. slot.

On that late morning I arrived at what has to be one of the best run big-scale vaccine clinics in the country, full of cheery folks with safety vests and red and silver pompoms who herded us deftly to one of many shot stations rimming the concourse.

I was done in less than a half-hour, counting the 15-minute waiting period after the shot.

Although we all wore masks, you could still tell we were smiling.

To paraphrase the Washington Post, the happiest place on Earth is anywhere there is vaccine.

If you’re among the 603,463 and counting in New Mexico who have received one or both doses, you know this euphoria, this relief, this hope. Perhaps you shed a tear, praised God and health-care workers, waxed poetic, burst into song. Social media is filled with selfies of folks holding up their CDC-official COVID-19 vaccination record cards or capturing the moment they were stuck in the arm.

“I’m thinking of hiring a brass band to march me down Lomas tomorrow,” a friend posted on Facebook after snagging a vaccine appointment at Phil’s Pills. “I know I will cry because maybe now I will be able to go to California in a month or so to see my family.”

We have waited so long for this.

But how had we been so lucky while others, many who are older or in poorer health, have yet to get the call?

Along with the joy, some of us are feeling a sort of survivor’s guilt — and some of those who haven’t been vaccinated are feeling various degrees of envy, confusion and anger.

David Glenn receives his first COVID-19 vaccine at the University of New Mexico Pit on Saturday. (JOLINE GUTIERREZ KRUEGER/JOURNAL)

“They’re saying people should’ve gotten it before I did,” said a woman named Debra, a caregiver who received her second shot last month. “I’m actually being shamed for that by so-called friends.”

I thought about my aunt, 96, feisty but frail, who has yet to receive an appointment. About Laura and Kaye, both in their 60s and with rheumatoid arthritis. About Mike, 61 and fighting cancer for 14 years. About teachers. About folks in rural realms of the state. About those who miss their chance to sign up for an appointment when the alert comes because they’re not as glued to their cellphone or email as me.

I thought about Sheila, a woman in her 70s with a host of pre-existing conditions and no computer whose neighbor registered her for the vaccine weeks ago to no avail.

She called me Feb. 19 to vent, introducing herself as “one of the forgotten ones.”

I contacted a DOH source, who immediately had someone reach out to her, check her registration and get her name in the queue to be contacted by a phone call rather than a text or email when an appointment opens up.

This week, I called Sheila to check up on her. She said she feels more relieved, less forgotten, but she is still waiting for a vaccine date.

Mike, the cancer fighter, is finally scheduled for his vaccine today, Wednesday. Keep the faith, folks.

And yet for all those who clamor for a vaccine there are those who say they will refuse one. A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released this week found that while 59% of respondents said they plan to get the vaccine, 41% said they are unwilling to do so.

Of the naysayers, 66% said they were concerned about side effects, 33% said they did not believe it was effective, 27% said they were not concerned about the virus and 23% said it should go to more at-risk individuals.

A separate survey, conducted by Civiqs Polling, found that Republicans are far more likely to refuse a vaccine than any other demographic group — only 33% plan to get vaccinated, compared with 70% of Democrats and 47% of independents.

I suspect these vaccine deniers are also the ones who raged against wearing a mask and refer to the rest of us rudely as “covidiots.” I wish them good luck, better fact-based information and adequate health and life insurance.

At present, New Mexico and most of the country is vaccinating those in Phase 1A, which includes health workers and first responders, and Phase 1B, which includes people 75 and older, 16 and older with chronic health conditions and frontline essential workers.

But this week, President Biden announced that there will be enough doses of vaccine for all adults in the country by May, the result of the approval of a third brand of vaccine, this one from Johnson and Johnson, being produced faster and in greater numbers through a deal with pharmaceutical competitor Merck.

As for me, the only side effect from my first shot — the Pfizer version — was soreness in the vaccinated arm. I’ve heard the second may bring on stronger side effects such as fever, chills, aches and lethargy. We shall see.

For now, I am grateful for the side effect of hope, the light at the end of this dark pandemic winter, the promise of normal times finally within grasp. Spring is coming.

Sign up for shots at cvvaccine.nmhealth.org.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

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