Yesterday, I volunteered for 9 hours at a vaccine clinic run by @SpectrumCares in the small city of Prescott Valley, AZ. Originally, I signed up to serve because of the promise of a vaccination. (I'm a Phase 2 vaccine candidate, and I wouldn't get my first dose until May.)
As my shift got closer, I got excited to be part of the effort to make my whole community safer. I started to think about how my grandparents and parents had served in wars and in their communities. I started feeling really grateful for the opportunity to take action...to do SOMETHING besides staying home and being nice to delivery people. It felt good to no longer be small and helpless in the face of tragedy.
What I discovered at the clinic, made me feel even better. The vaccine clinic was a model of cooperation, community, clarity, science, and hope.
It was a partnership: a nonprofit healthcare company, a for-profit business donating the site, the local & state government providing the doses, and the feds, through FEMA, coordinating volunteers. The presence of FEMA meant there were people there from all over the country, helping to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Young Black, Latinx FEMA workers called up from Louisiana, Virginia, even the Virgin Islands, here to take care of a bunch of old white people in a town famous for its racism.
During a lull, I had a chat with a Gen Z woman from Suffolk, VA, who just wants to be busy and feel useful. I joked that here we were injecting Bill Gates' chips into everyone. She'd never even heard of that conspiracy theory. That was really refreshing.
The clinic was very well organized. Patients never had to wait more than a minute or two. The computer software was friendly and glitch-free. The vaccine doses appeared on my table in small batches, and we administered them swiftly. Patients were grateful and appreciative. As soon as we vaccinated a patient, they were able to immediately schedule their second dose. All were pleasantly surprised.
It was a joy to interact with the mostly elderly patients; my community's elders. To keep them comfortable and positive as I readied the needle, I asked them what they were most looking forward once they were fully protected. Travel, grandchildren, graduations, and dining out with friends topped the list. Others spoke of their eagerness just to be free from fear and anxiety. All of my patients thanked me for my service. An 80-year-old Korean war vet thanked me for my service.
I didn't know we could still do this kind of thing in America.
After a year of feeling despair at the willful stupidity and ignorance of my neighbors & continuous gaslighting by elected leaders, this acknowledgement of reality and common humanity was a profound blessing.
All the patients marveled at the efficiency of the operation.
"The directions signs were so clear... I didn't expect that."
"You guys are so fast and friendly. I thought I'd be waiting in line for hours."
"I'm so relieved, I was worried I'd get here but be turned away."
One patient even said, "I didn't know we could still do this kind of thing in America."
I understand his surprise.
It turns out, despite the damage of the last 4 years, despite the anti-science, anti-community, toxic rhetoric, Americans can come together... at least for a little while... and work to solve a problem.
I know that yesterday was just a tiny point of light. (I can't believe I'm quoting H.W. Bush.) And, despite my joy and relief at being part of the solution, we must do more. We vaccinated 500 people yesterday. We could have doubled that if we'd had the doses.
But even 1000 vaccinations a day means our little, rural county won't be protected (80% immune) until August. That means Jose won't be able to go see his granddaughter graduate in May. That means more local businesses closing forever. That means too many deaths.
The people, businesses, and nonprofits in my community are ready to rally. This cooperative effort showed me we can still be optimistic, capable Americans. We just need more resources from the state and federal government. We need more doses, more FEMA staff, more honesty.
I've been so fortunate to be able to work from home and stay safe. Now I've got my first dose. It's time for me to pay it forward. I'll be volunteering once a week at vaccination clinics until we've knocked this pandemic back. And I'll be cultivating a little American optimism to go along with my hard-earned 2020 realism. We can do this. We have to do this.
(If you have a vaccine story, please post it in the comments.)
Charles Matheus grew up in an old mining town in Arizona. He managed to graduate from an Ivy League University and knows that you won't hold that against him.