Rolling up our sleeves: Bay Area adventures in vaccination

Rolling up our sleeves: Bay Area adventures in vaccination

Rolling up our sleeves: Bay Area adventures in vaccination
Kaiser COVID Vaccination Center in Martinez, CA. (Photo by Pete Cruz)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY —Bay Area counties instituted shelter-in-place protocols in March 2020, before much of the rest of the country. After recent welcome news about the clinical trials, many millions of us are eager to be vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout has been frustrating at times, but as vaccine supply has ramped up in recent weeks, thousands have faced the needle. Despite scattered reports of snafus and supply shortages, many in the Bay Area have positive reviews of their experience.

For those of us still awaiting our turn, here are some observations from locals who visited various vaccination sites.

Side effects

Some mentioned side effects. One wrote, “I got my first shot at John Muir Concord Hospital. Was in and out in 40 minutes. Very organized. Unfortunately had lots of side effects for three or four days…. I understand the second shot has more…. Oh well, it has to be done.” Another reported “major chills, headache, and big-time nausea for a day and a half. Had to stay in bed. Sleep.”

Carole, who lives in Concord, said, “Hubby and I have had both the first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Neither produced any symptoms at all, not even a sore arm. Felt fortunate!”

Lee, a 54-year-old doctor, was part of the first wave to be vaccinated in December 2020. He got his shot through the hospital where he works and had only minor fatigue and soreness after. Logistically and medically it was “no big deal,” said Lee. “It was, however, a pretty big deal from a psychological perspective. It allayed my own personal fears but also symbolically represented a light at the end of the tunnel for the entire pandemic.”

Appointment hunting

Getting an appointment for the vaccine has proved challenging for some, especially early in the process.

Angela, an 82-year-old retired business owner, didn’t hesitate. “As soon as vaccines became available to me, I started signing up on any site I could find. … I continued to check my trap lines every day and couldn’t sniff an appointment opportunity in SF, or the entire Bay Area. I considered going to Sacramento or San Diego, [but] couldn’t get an appointment there either. By the time the government opened up appointments to more people I was sweating getting lost in the crowd.”

She then thought to check with her local Safeway pharmacy. They told her they had none available, but added her name to their list. She checked back weekly but had no luck for a while.

Then on Feb. 5 she got a call from Safeway. They had a dose available and “if I could get there within an hour I could have it.” She didn’t feel the needle and had no immediate reaction, but a few days later reported: “I developed a rash on my upper arm and it itched slightly.” Her second dose, also at Safeway, differed slightly: “I felt the needle and developed the same itchy rash, lasting about 2 days.” She said the pharmacy staff “couldn’t have been nicer.”

Angela adds, “My friend, who had her second shot cancelled by Sutter Health, walked to Safeway with me for my second shot. They had an extra second shot available and gave it to her.”

My turn

Jessica K., a 54-year-old professor at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, went online in search of appointments as soon as educators became eligible. She and many colleagues initially couldn’t score appointments anywhere, but days later new vaccine supplies arrived and she booked a visit at Kaiser Walnut Creek using the new website. “It was very smooth,” she said. “I was in and out in a half hour. and that included waiting 15 minutes to be sure I had no reaction and scheduling the next appointment.” She felt a bit tired the next day but had no other side effects. When asked if she felt less stressed out about COVID, she replied, “Not yet, but I think I will in 4 weeks or so.”

Jessica G., got the shot at the Oakland Coliseum without leaving her car. She says getting the appointment “took logging in and checking several times a day…. I arrived 10 minutes before my scheduled time and the whole process took 2 hours waiting in the maze of cars. It was well organized, just took a while. I was tired the next day and had a sore arm … but was otherwise fine.” She’ll get shot #2 in two more weeks.

Selfies with Dr. Fauci

Philip, a 68-year-old technical writer in San Francisco, switched to full-time telecommuting a year ago and has stayed home as much as possible during the lockdown. After those over 65 became eligible, Kaiser told him they’d be making contact when vaccines were available. But Kaiser was silent for a long while, so he eventually tried his luck on the MyTurn site, easily securing appointments for both doses at the Moscone Center vaccine hub.

Although he was apprehensive about what this newly created vaccination center might be like, his fears were unfounded. “On arrival I was immediately impressed,” he said. “Several people directed traffic at the drop-off loop, where cars moved smoothly with zero congestion. Inside the lobby were several intake booths, arranged maybe 20 feet apart. I showed my ID and was directed down an escalator. Visitors proceeded calmly, and the ample electronic signage made everything obvious. In one open area, a life-size cardboard cutout of a smiling Anthony Fauci was perched off to one side. (At my second visit I saw people taking selfies with it.)”

“I had arrived at 10:15 for a 10:30 appointment. My shot — which didn’t hurt at all — was done by 10:25.” All visitors waited afterward in a large socially distanced area adjoining the row of vaccine stations, to be monitored for reactions. “As people cycled out of the area, staff swooped in to wipe down the empty chairs. I waited the required 15 minutes and left, arriving home in time to catch the tail end of an online work meeting.”

Moving forward

After a year of lockdowns, endless hand sanitizing and social distancing, we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. Efforts to get back to normal are paying off. This will continue as more of us get vaccinated in the months to come.

As one 75-year-old Clayton resident put it, just after getting the vaccine at a Richmond vaccine clinic last month: “I am participating in the most well-organized, mass government undertaking in my lifetime. This is historic. Damn. We are good!”