We started off slowly, with just a trickle of people. I thought last Sunday’s brutal cold might keep turnout low. And there were a few early morning glitches as we worked out our routine.
But by mid-day, Amy Schouten, the nurse giving the shots, and I, her “vaccine buddy,” had hit our stride. She was vaccinating a steady stream of people while I recorded all the relevant data.
“Thank you, and congratulations,” I said to most people.
Thank you for joining the parade of people bearing their arms to boost our communal immunity.
Congratulations that you have been able to navigate the tricky path to a vaccine. Appointments fill up within minutes, waiting lists are pages long, and which vaccine group you fall into can be challenging to decipher. Vaccine deliveries are irregular, manufacturing can’t meet demand, and states are making it up as they go along.
Despite good intentions, we continue to fall short of our goal, our obligation, to distribute vaccines equitably. But on Valentine’s Day in Denver, we vaccinated a true melting pot of people. The young woman whose parents in Iran were thrilled that she was getting a shot. The cleaning staff from a nearby school, followed by the sharply dressed white matron of a certain status and age. The young, charismatic Hispanic man videotaping his vaccination so he could convince others to join him. The middle-aged adults bringing parents in on their arms and the large and imposing man who held his wife’s hand to overcome his dread of shots and get his vaccine.
Everybody was excited and grateful to get vaccinated. They thanked us again and again. The military precision of the operation run by my National Jewish Health colleagues and the University of Denver no doubt contributed to the good mood by keeping lines moving and a steady supply of vaccines coming to our stations. But the joy came from more than smooth operations and the personal accomplishment of getting vaccinated.
There was a shared, communal feeling in the gymnasium that day. We were all there together on a bitterly cold Sunday doing our part to end this pandemic. People from all sectors of society joined in a great communal effort for the common good. Rich and not so well off; all shades of skin; from 18 to more than 80 years of age; red, blue; urban, suburban and rural folks all overlooking our differences and disagreements to work together.
“We’re part of history,” one man told me. “The biggest vaccination effort in the history of the world.”
Maybe across America we are hitting our stride as well. Only a month ago, President Joe Biden’s goal of one million vaccinations per day seemed ambitious. Last Sunday, about 2.2 million people received vaccinations, according to the New York Times.
The effort is massive. For just that one vaccination event in Denver, the planning required mastery of head-exploding details and 300 volunteers working, from 7 in the morning to well past 7 at night to vaccinate about 3,500 people.
To get 2.2 million people vaccinated on Sunday nationwide, that effort had to be repeated more than 600 times. Day after day, we repeat that amazing effort.
News stories highlight manufacturing and distribution logjams that prevent us from vaccinating all who want it. There are definite problems, and it will take longer than we want to achieve herd immunity.
But we are trending in the right direction. With additional vaccines nearing authorization and the federal government finally offering support, we should continue to vaccinate more and more people every day.
Still, it is far from a slam dunk that we will wrestle this pandemic to the ground. Viral variants threaten the vaccines’ effectiveness. Many people are reluctant to get a vaccine. And the duration of immunity is uncertain. But the vaccines, backed by masks and social distancing, offer our best shot at ending this pandemic.
On Sunday, it felt deeply satisfying and highly encouraging to leave division, disharmony and rancor behind. To join forces, to work together and to serve a greater good for the benefit of all. Although our circumstances vary widely, we are all in this together. And it is together that we will accomplish more than we ever could as individuals.
William Allstetter is director of media and external relations at National Jewish Health in Denver.
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