Woog's World: Thankful for the first dose

I got shot. And I couldn’t be happier.

The shot was the Moderna vaccine. It was not my first choice — there are more aches and pains associated with its second dose than Pfizer’s, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been shipped here — but at this point in the pandemic, I would take any vaccine after-effects and all. Quibbling over possible chills for 24 hours seems the height of entitlement.

I’m focusing instead on the remarkable achievement that not one, but three, vaccines were created, tested, produced in mass quantities and distributed less than a year after COVID-19 was first identified. That’s a miracle of modern medicine, and it’s not getting as much attention as it should. (I’m also impressed that there are enough syringes to go around too. That small detail could have derailed the vaccine rollout big time.)

I’m one of the many Westporters who was excited when Connecticut released sign-up information. I’m also one of the many Westporters who was frustrated when the time came to log on and actually get an appointment. I usually race through websites, autofilling all the important information. But the Vaccine Administration Management System was not outsourced to the same type of make-it-happen workers who brought three vaccines to market. The signup process was as time-consuming, crash-prone and maddening as I’d heard. Whoever thought that designing a system where availability was the last item revealed, not the first, should be sentenced to an eternity of using that system for all their browsing needs.

I wondered how someone unlike me — a person without unlimited time, less comfortable with technology, or without access to a computer — managed to score an appointment. I learned that younger relatives and perfect strangers volunteer their time and online talents to ensure that people who want the vaccine can get it. It’s heartening to hear, but unfortunate it has to happen.

Meanwhile, I persevered. I secured an appointment at Stamford Hospital. “They’re great!” everyone who had been there said. I got ready for my first dose.

Then I got hip pain. This had nothing to do with the coronavirus. But because I could not stand or walk, an orthopedist prescribed prednisone. He did not ask if I had a vaccine appointment, so after realizing mixing two drugs might not be a great idea, I did. The advice: Wait a week after ending the prednisone, before getting the shot.

It was back to online hell. This time — heeding the advice to call the hotline itself — I punched my way through an interminable phone tree. At the end, a chirpy voice announced that no one was available to take my call. If I left my name and number, someone would call back within 24 hours.

My expectations were low. Four hours later, I got a call from an 877 number. Normally I ignore those. My car warranty is not expiring, and my computer is not in danger of exploding. But I sensed this might be the callback.

I was right. A spectacularly efficient young-sounding woman quickly found a boatload of available days and times at the Lord & Taylor parking lot in Stamford. I chose 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Before I could ask about a follow-up for the second dose, she offered to do that too.

Friends who were vaccinated at the Lord & Taylor lot raved about the experience. It’s a drive-through; you don’t even get out of your car. So last Saturday morning I put on a short-sleeve shirt, checked my photo ID and insurance card, and headed out.

When I say the only glitch was that though the address was 110 High Ridge Road, the vaccine entrance is around the corner on Long Ridge, I’m not kidding. This was perhaps the most well-designed, efficient medial process I’ve ever had. The National Guard is in charge. This was, remarkably, my first real interaction with them, and I’m impressed. From cones marking the way, to the thorough but quick check-in procedure, on through the vaccine itself and the upbeat guardsmen patrolling the 15-minute post-shot waiting area, it was almost an uplifting experience.

From the time I left my house to the moment I returned, the total time was 68 minutes. That’s the price I paid for my first vaccination. And my second one is less than a month away, at the same site.

Not much has gone right over the past year. The pandemic’s toll is gruesome. I know my vaccine story is not replicated across the country. But I’ve heard enough good things about what’s happening in Connecticut to say: Thank you to everyone who had anything to do with this. I don’t know who you are. But I know you have done wonderful, important — and life-saving — work.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.