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Gustavo Gac-Artigas

Feelings After Getting the Second Dose of the Covid Vaccine

The night before our appointment for the second dose of the Covid vaccine, I was restless. There had been a snowstorm in the previous week and, for two days, the vaccination centers remained closed and appointments for shots had been canceled. Maybe they will postpone my appointment, I thought, and should it be postponed, there is no way to know for how long. Meanwhile, the virus continues roaming around the cities of America.

A question assaulted my mind. What if there were not enough vaccines left and the vaccination centers? There is no clear policy on this, and in fact, there is no clear policy on anything. More vaccines are coming in, but not in the number and speed needed, or to the neighborhoods where they are most needed.

In the early morning, it began to snow again, not too heavy but still, like the cotton flakes we used to decorate the Christmas trees in my childhood. In my country, Chile, we had no white Christmases. At the beginning of the summer, cotton balls became the snow for the trees, and fat old “viejitos pascueros” or Santa Clauses sweating in their velvet costumes greeted us everywhere.

My wife and I put on a double mask – with Covid you are never cautious enough – and we headed to the vaccination center where we would get the second dose of the vaccine.

Eureka! Few people, very few people waiting their turn. We were joyful. I was joyful. But then a feeling of sadness invaded my heart and mind: few people, very few people waiting, and so many in need of getting vaccinated!

As the needle pierced my flesh to let in the blessed fluid, I felt relief. Every drop meant protection. As the nurse removed the needle my feeling of relief became a feeling of shame. I had rejoiced. I felt more protected. Meanwhile, others were waiting. I felt lucky, and others were waiting!

Does my life worth more than that of others? What is the price of human life? Who has the right to determine who lives and who dies?

We had rushed to make an appointment to receive the first dose of the vaccine as soon as we became eligible to get it. We just had to find find a center that had vaccines available. We were lucky. We got appointments for the day following the date of the announcement of our eligibility.

Lucky? It was not luck. We had our computers on, we had chosen beforehand the place where we thought we would have the best chances of quickly getting an appointment, and the second they opened the registration, we logged in and got the first two appointments. Meanwhile, there were so many people waiting!

In New York, there are 500,000 households with no access to the Internet, more than 500,000 folks who do not even have the opportunity to expect a phone call to get an appointment. And I called it luck! I was witnessing the kind of inequality I have fought against all my life, and I called it luck!

How many more are there abandoned to their fate! Waiting for the opening of more vaccination centers where no appointment is needed. Hoping that there will be enough vaccines even for them, the less fortunate. Waiting for someone to add them to a list. Hoping to be lucky enough to bypass the virus in their way to work, to circumvent it in their crowded rooms, or on public transportation. Waiting for the vaccine, waiting for it to arrive on time, waiting for it to reach them, simply waiting.

I comforted myself by thinking, if I get infected, I will surely end up occupying a bed in a hospital   –a waiting room to my death– and wasting precious time, precious resources while others still wait. I comforted myself by thinking that by being vaccinated, I was freeing a bed in the ER. And I closed my eyes. I could not bear to continue thinking about the value of human lives. It was too painful.

On my way home, I thought, in New Jersey, today, February 11, about 9.9% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and out of them, 2.9% has received the second shot; in New York, 9.4% have received at least the first dose and 3.2% the second.

In the United States, about 33.8 million, 10% of a population of 332 million, has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 10.5 million of them, 3.2%, has completed the second phase. 23.3 million have received the Pfizer, and 10.5 million the Modern. Since January, the number of people vaccinated has tripled. It is anticipated that by July, half of the population will be at least partially vaccinated and that by December, the target of 90% will be reached.

To these figures, we must add those individuals who, by being infected acquired some kind of immunization either strong, mild, or asymptomatic, according to their degree of exposure to the virus and its reaction. But it is not known for sure for how long, nor how effective this immunization is. Therefore, let’s not forget that every new person infected is a new possibility of mutation for the virus, and let’s be cautious. The aftermath of the disease is not known yet. Let’s remember the adage: better safe than sorry.

Worldwide 135.5 million people in 90 countries have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. 135.5 million were rescued from the hungry jaws of the virus. I rejoiced!

Where are the lucky ones of the world? I wondered. And the answer frightened me. 75% of the lucky ones live in the world’s 10 richest countries, in countries that concentrate 60% of the world’s wealth. And in those countries, who got vaccinated the first, who is better protected, who is the luckiest? Luck?

And what about my people? 130 countries, home to 2.5 billion people who have not had access to the vaccine, and where the vaccination campaign has not started yet. Is that bad luck?

Only 2% of the world’s population has been vaccinated, but the pandemic is global, we need 70% to 90% of the world’s population to get vaccinated to stop its spread, to slow down its mutation, according to the experts. 70 to 90% must get vaccinated if we want to return to the world as we knew it before the last four years of nightmare.

We need to produce more vaccines. We need effective vaccines to keep us and those around us safe. We need effective vaccines to safeguard our mental health. We need effective vaccines to protect our families. We need effective vaccines to help us return to life in society once again. We need to distribute more vaccines and distribute them more efficiently so that despite the inequality prevailing, they reach the most exposed, the poor of the world, the unprotected of the world, the unlucky Juan Verdejo of the world. Those whose life or death is not news, those who represent only a percentage. We need this efficiency, not for the greedy safety of the rich, or the economy, but for them, my people, the majority.

Yesterday I got the second dose of the Covid vaccine and felt better protected, but I do not know why more miserable.

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