Culture / Newsy

Navigating the Search for a COVID-19 Vaccine in Houston — My Vaccine Story Shows How Persistence and Luck Can Pay Off

In a Confusing Rollout, Dogged Determination and Fate Both Matter

BY // 01.10.21

Trying to secure a coveted appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination can be a confusing mess, but a large number of determined Houstonians won’t give up.

On the first day that the Houston Health Department released a phone number for appointments a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called it 316 times before finally getting through and receiving a same-day slot.

An enterprising retired journalist reasoned that demand might be less in an out-of-the-way location on the list of providers supplied by the state of Texas and showed up at a community clinic in southwest Houston. He and his wife received a dose immediately.

Another friend happened to call her pharmacist at Kroger just as he had received approval to compile a list of recipients for the vaccine and added her name.

Others have had success after being contacted by Methodist Hospital or similar health care institutions because they were previously a patient there. And some well-heeled Houstonians have seemingly jumped to the head of the line because the pricey high-rise where they live obtained doses of the precious vaccine.

But a large number of people clamoring to get the vaccine and who fit the criteria, particularly Texans over 65 or those over 16 with medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19, haven’t been as fortunate.

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Appointments on the city’s Emergency Operations Center COVID-19 website are booked through January and a growing number of frustrated Houstonians are feeling left out, especially when seeing others post photos on social media of their vaccination experience in a boastful way that reeks of a “I-got-it-and-you-didn’t” mentality.

I was able to land a coveted slot on the city’s emergency website about 10 days ago and went to the Bayou City Event Center last week to receive my first dose of the Moderna vaccine (the one whose development was enhanced by a $1 million grant from singer Dolly Parton). I felt a bit guilty about posting photos of my experience while others are shut out, although I met the criteria and lucked out by accessing the website just as a number of appointment times became available. But my joy at getting the vaccine and promoting it to those who may be hesitant about it outweighed those doubts.

Clifford Pugh receives COVID-19 vaccine at Bayou Event Center
The article’s author takes a selfie while receiving the Moderna vaccine. (Photo by Clifford Pugh)

My advice: Keep trying, no matter how frustrating it may be. Providers are receiving more doses of the vaccine every week, and once Joe Biden is inaugurated, availability is expected to skyrocket.

And sometimes, you just may be in luck. A persistent friend kept accessing the Houston Health Department emergency site on Saturday and discovered an immediate opening for a vaccination after the city received a last-minute shipment of an additional 2,600 doses. She was among the 3,600 people vaccinated at Minute Maid Park, which served as the site for one day. (The vaccination program returns to the smaller Bayou City Event Center on Monday but plans are in the works to reopen the mega site at the downtown baseball stadium when additional doses become available regularly.)

The COVID-19 Vaccine Experience

As for the vaccination experience, mine was relatively painless. Nervous about missing our time slot, my spouse and I arrived an hour early to a drive-thru tent outside the Bayou Event Center, south of the Texas Medical Center off of Almeda Road, and were given a slew of papers to fill out. We waited in our car in the parking lot until the appointed time. (Organizers ask that you arrive no more than 15 minutes before your appointment to avoid having too many people onsite at one time.)

A city health department employee at the front entrance of the event center checked my temperature and guided me to a large room for a brief check-in. I was then directed to a station where the nurse reviewed my information one more time, asked me which arm I wanted the vaccine in (I chose my less-dominate left arm), and applied it. I felt a little stab of pain that seemed to last several seconds, but it wasn’t that bad.

Afterwards, I waited in an area where chairs were set up in a socially distant way so I could be observed to make sure I didn’t have a reaction to the vaccine.

I felt a little sluggish and extremely hungry and thirsty, so upon arriving home, I ate a big lunch and chilled out for much of the rest of the day. Now, a few days later, my arm remains sore, I continue to be a bit lethargic and I am still thirstier than usual. I’m drinking lots of water and taking Tylenol or Advil regularly to alleviate minor pains.

But otherwise I feel much better than I did before because I’m relieved to have gotten a vaccine. (I am scheduled to receive the second and final dose on February 4.)

I’ve also been reassured because every day I receive a text from the Centers for Disease Control asking how I am feeling and monitoring my health since the vaccination. The voluntary V-safe program asks me to rate my symptoms with a series of questions and offers guidance in the event my condition worsens.

My life is not going to markedly change in the coming months — I will continue to wear a mask, avoid indoor locations, stay away from crowds, practice social distancing and wash my hands constantly. We still have a long way to go to get back to normal.

But for the first time in a long while, I feel some hope. And after nearly a year of pandemic life, that means a lot.

I can’t wait until everyone can join in the same feeling.

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