As the title states, I am happy to announce that I have had the first of my two Pfizer shots as of Wednesday night.
How did I do this?
For those of you who aren’t aware, in many (or probably most) states, vaccine distribution centers are going 24/7, which means they need a lot of non-medical folks to keep things running smoothly:
- People directing incoming and outgoing cars
- People checking folks in to verify they have an appointment
- People directing cars into lanes so that one lane isn’t empty while others are backed up
- People supporting the medical volunteers by keeping them supplied with needles and gloves and such
- People right before the exit who schedule second appointments for anyone getting their first dose.
So yeah, lots of people. One scheduling group has 95 slots per six-hour shift, and the other has 120 slots per eight-hour shift. So the two stadiums together require 740 non-clinical volunteers each day.
Now that sound like slots abound but…
Not so much
The greater Phoenix area has 4.7 million people — and with the population skewing increasingly younger, that’s a lot of people who don’t yet qualify for the vaccine.
Meanwhile, here in Phoenix one organization was only opening up slots for two to three days at a time, and the other released about a week’s worth at a time.
So when slots did open, they were claimed quickly. In fact, one organization had 1,000 newly released slots fill up in less than an hour.
Thus anyone who, like me, missed the release of new shifts had to monitor the volunteer site — either for newly opened shifts (and releases aren’t announced ahead of time) or people dropping out, opening up a spot.
A little help from my friend
Thankfully, my friend Brandon knows some coding. So he spent about 20 minutes writing a script that would check the website about once a minute and text us about open slots.
Even with that, it was extremely difficult. I would check as soon as I got the alert, but out of the 25ish total attempts, I rarely even found the open slot still showing. When I did and clicked it, I’d get a message saying it was full. I think a lot of folks were running scripts too.
The second day, Brandon changed the script to check about every 30 seconds. And after another 10 or so attempts, we were both successful. Aaron got a shift too, thankfully.
It took Leila a little longer because she didn’t want the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift. But she got in Wednesday morning when the next week of shifts was opened up.
Even that was extremely challenging. We (I had signed in as her on my phone to try to help) could see the sign-up buttons, but despite my clicking — no exaggeration — at least 30 times, nothing would happen or I’d get an error message. But eventually a click worked for her, so she’s all set for Thursday morning.
So how can you get a shift?
With vaccination centers around the country being open 24/7, there’s a chance you can get a spot too. The trick, of course, is that you have to know where to look — and of course, people living near big cities are more likely to find opportunities.
The first place to start would be your state’s Department of Health Services/Public Health Department to see if they give any indication as to which organizations are in charge of finding volunteers.
If that doesn’t bear fruit, do a Google search for “vaccine distribution center volunteer” and your state. It may be good idea to add “non-clinical.”
If you can’t find any specifics that way, start Googling the bigger volunteer organizations in your area. I got a spot through HandsOn Phoenix. Blue Cross Blue Shield was also scheduling volunteers for a while, but it seems to have stopped for good.
If you can’t find any organizations doing the volunteer coordination, call some of the bigger organizations you find. They may know which group has been tasked with the project.
Also, while of course he didn’t end up needing it, Aaron had signed up for the state’s emergency volunteer program, for people who want to help during emergencies or natural disasters. He opened an account, signed up for our county, then signed up for a sub-group called Team Vax. So it’s worth checking your state’s site for emergency volunteers.
And of course, check with any computer-savvy friends about writing a script. It’s apparently a very simple one.
An ounce of prevention
So okay, I got a shift — and hopefully you will too — but I still had to do it. Eight hours on your feet is a lot, even without chronic fatigue. With it, I was going to have a tough time making it. So I completely over-prepared to ensure I’d finish the shift.
I filled a backpack with:
- An extra pill of my energy medication (I’d suggest caffeine for the rest of you)
- Rewetting drops in case my contact lenses started acting up
- My lens case and my glasses in case the rewetting drops weren’t enough
- A sweatshirt for when it cooled down at night
- A rain coat and umbrella (brief rains were predicted)
- An extra mask
- The ultimate over-thinking: anti-diarrheals in case my stomach acted up from any of the food provided
I should’ve also brought a hat, though. So add that to your list — and sunglasses, if you don’t normally have them on you.
A smart move
Turns out, I wasn’t quite as over-prepared as I thought.
My feet were sore quickly, and my arm didn’t love hours of cradling the iPad I was using. So I took two doses of aspirin during my shift. And of course the sweatshirt came in handy when it cooled down for the evening.
But the real smart move had been bringing my lens case and glasses. It didn’t rain, but there were 27 mph winds.* I had sunglasses, but I had to lower them to see the iPad screen. Thus the wind was drying out my eyes and throwing dirt all around.
As soon as I got my food break, I switched to glasses and breathed a sigh of relief.
*When I walked back to get the meal provided — which was quite tasty, incidentally — I had to lean into the wind so much that I’m pretty sure I looked like a mime.
How it went
I had hoped Brandon and I would be partnered, but volunteers were pre-assigned to zones. So he ended up helping the medical folks. I ended up by the exit, scheduling second appointments.
Training was extremely minimal — three people trying to see the iPad screen while the volunteer from the previous shift went through a multi-step process. She had us watch her three times, then left before any of us tried it ourselves.
There also weren’t enough people with iPads — some volunteers had to direct cars — and we weren’t really assigned lanes. So we just sort of wandered around looking for cars marked as someone needing a second appointment.
So I kept getting turned around, multiple lanes from where I had started, bumping into someone else with an iPad and turning around to figure out which lanes weren’t covered.
And I was halfway through my shift when a supervisor told me the 20-ish questions I’d been going through weren’t necessary, since folks were asked that when they came into the stadium. Sigh.
But after two hours, traffic started to slow. By 5:30 p.m., we had a bunch more people with iPads. Too many, in fact, so there was very little to do. (A lot of people coming through were getting their second shot and therefore didn’t need appointments.) So the last 4.5 hours dragged horribly.
I saw the next shift of volunteers arrive around 9:45 p.m., so I was annoyed when no one sent them out to train until 10:10 p.m.
I got a guy all squared away by about 10:20, but it was a five minute walk back to turn in my badge and vest. And it took me several minutes to walk to the parking lot and figure out where the hell I’d left my car.
So I didn’t get into the vaccination line until about 10:40 p.m. — at which point a generator went out, killing the lights where shots were being administered.
It took about 20 minutes to fix that, but since volunteers were being sent on a slightly route than the general public, I got the shot at 11:15 and left at 11:30 p.m.
I was so tired that I took surface streets home. I didn’t trust myself to drive freeway speeds. So I got home at 11:59 p.m.
I staggered in, petted Josie who was very excited to see me, dropped everything, did the most cursory toothbrushing and face washing ever — I’d have skipped the latter, but the winds had covered me in grime — and fell into bed.
The physical fallout
As soon as I got the Wednesday shift — Tuesday around 11 a.m. — I took the computer to my bedroom and worked lying down for the rest of the day. Then I tried to lie down for the rest of the night.
I also tried to fall asleep at 8 p.m. It didn’t work until 10 p.m., but that still meant about nine hours’ sleep. Wednesday I worked lying down right up until I had to leave for my shift at 1 p.m.
I think all that rest is what saved me.
I woke up with only about seven hours’ of sleep and expected to be so tired I’d cry (it’s happened before), but other than sore feet, I was relatively okay. Tired, but not enervated.
Of course, I also worked lying down and lay in bed that evening watching TV. So maybe that helped.
As for actual side effects, my arm was only slightly sore until about 4 p.m. Maybe the aspirin I took for my feet was masking the discomfort because it was increasingly tender all night.
I may also have been running a very low fever. By the time I realized it might be happening, I was half asleep and not about to get up to find the thermometer.
Friday morning, my arm was only slightly tender. And I felt pretty good energy-wise, though I worked from bed again just to be safe.
But of course it’s allegedly the second shot that actually packs a wallop. So I’ll need to make sure I have various medications and food available before my shot at 8 p.m on Wednesday the 24th.
All in all
Obviously, I’m hoping the fact that life will be a little less dangerous — and that most of my group* will be done the vaccination process/wait time six weeks from now — will help my mood, since that’s been rough lately.
But of course, I’ll still need to wear masks while out and about. Firstly because I could be in the 5% not made immune by the vaccine. Second, it’s still unknown whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus. And even if those weren’t true, other people won’t know I’m vaccinated, and I’m not about to give them anxiety by going maskless.
And bigger gatherings are still discouraged even among vaccinated people.
So life won’t be back to normal any time soon. And if I do go to my friend’s birthday party, I’ll be outside only other than bathroom trips.
Still, I’m daydreaming about maybe eating in a restaurant. Or going to the movies and being able to eat popcorn. Or going to a bar. (Probably staying on the patio, but still…)
And my friends and I all agree we’re in for hugs so long that they get sorta uncomfortable.
But I have to steel myself for isolation still being an issue at times, and so my depression still going up and down. Because unfortunately, even with a vaccine, we have a long road ahead of us. But at least now it doesn’t feel like that road will lead us straight off a cliff.
*Besides Brandon, me and Leila, one friend did a volunteer shift two weeks ago; and one was vaccinated when she drove her partner for his shot. So that just leaves one guy and his girlfriend, who inexplicably didn’t express interest in getting volunteer shifts.
Has anyone else volunteered or is anyone else trying to get a shift? If so, how did you find the opportunity?