Thoughts on the Needle in My Shoulder

Or how this could have been so much worse under Donald Trump

Yesterday I got the first of two doses of the COVID vaccine. Pfizer, if you must know.

I got my vaccine the same place I went to my junior prom, which is a weird place for two big-ish life events to both happen.

As the needle stuck out of my left shoulder, I got emotional thinking about the prior year: the anticipation of COVID coming to America, educating our older family members that this was real and coming, outfitting them with N95 masks, living through the worst of the first wave in Brooklyn, the horrendously botched response to it and subsequent politicization of centuries of public health learnings (we knew masks worked from past plagues, going back hundreds of years), missing my family and friends, the 500,000+ people who lost their lives because our government could have done more and just flat out refused to, the businesses that closed, the people who lost their jobs, graduations that never really happened, college deferments, a rise in pregnancies, elections.

My wife, Devon, and I lived in Brooklyn through the worst of the first wave of COVID. Our apartment sat between a fire station and a hospital. In April and May, the sirens were constant. Dozens per day, as they presumably tended to COVID patients.

We’d lived in Brooklyn for 5 years and I’d never heard a siren from either side that I payed much attention to. They never woke me up or interrupted a phone call.

One morning late last February, I went to a small hardware store in our neighborhood and bought 40 N95 masks. I stuck them in the back of a cabinet in our kitchen, ashamed to tell Devon because what if I was just being paranoid. I bought and froze a few pounds of ground beef and some Stouffer’s lasagnas, just in case.

There weren’t any cases in the US yet. Japan had a few dozen. So did South Korea. I kept a spreadsheet every morning with the top countries and their counts from the Johns Hopkins dashboard.

It seemed like it was only a matter of time. I wanted to be prepared without being alarmist.

Sure, we can do two weeks inside.

After the shot, I kept thinking to myself how much worse this all could have been if Trump had won a second term. It was a necessary part of my gratitude: considering the fork in reality where none of this happened, where we were vaccinated and quarantined for months, if not years, longer.

I don’t know how we’d ever have gotten vaccinated. Trump hadn’t ordered enough. Worse, he’d said no to buying an additional doses. Maybe he didn’t know how many people lived in the country he lorded over. Maybe couldn’t count that high. I can’t be sure.

660 million doses. That’s the magic number. The math isn’t hard.

Maybe Trump just didn’t give a shit. That much I can be sure of.

Under a second Trump term, would we have had to go to Canada to get a vaccine? New York and California would have never gotten enough doses to be meaningful. He’d have given them to Red States and said the rest of the country be damned. Fight it out or bribe your way to a shot.

There likely would have been a black market for COVID vaccines.

Bill Gates, Oprah, and The Rock would have had to buy supply from pharma companies and start community medical operations. It sounds silly but isn’t that the GoFundMe version of a nationalized government response? What’s the alternative when the government was actively ignoring and providing disinformation about the pandemic?

Biden committed the country to 100 million shots in 100 days. He achieved that in 58 days. It’s not enough to vaccinate us all, to be sure, but as a symbol, it’s important. As momentum towards herd immunity, it’s vital.

His administration stood up FEMA sites around the country and ensured the logistics needed to get needles in the shoulder of every American who wants the vaccine. They began public messaging about vaccine safety and efficacy, encouraging people against the fear or hesitancy that they may encounter.

The point of this post isn’t to get political. I’m just grateful that the sacrifice and difficulty of the last year has been eased a bit and that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We’ve got a newborn now, so our routines might have to stick around a little longer to keep her safe and COVID-free.

Yesterday gave me a lot of hope.

Thinking back to our absentee ballots last night, Devon said, “I never got an ‘I Voted’ sticker.”

I pointed to her “I Got Vaccinated” sticker on the counter.

“There it is.”

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