Each of us has a COVID-19 vaccination story. Here is mine.
Living with the threat of COVID19 has been difficult and challenging. But for those of us residing on the north shore of Lake Chapala, receiving the COVID vaccinations has proved, in many ways, to be as difficult and more frustrating than the pandemic itself.
As the distribution of vaccinations trickled down from Mexico’s federal government to state and local governments, organization and communication appeared to become mired in chaotic confusion. What I experienced is what many, if not most or all, residents, Mexican or gringo, living in the general Ajijic area went through.
Vaccines were slow to get here. When they first arrived in Mexico in late-December 2020, the largest cities, like Guadalajara, appeared to get served first. That was expected and makes sense. We, at the lake, patiently waited for the distribution to spread to the surrounding suburbs, towns, and small villages. We watched as areas relatively near us received vaccines, but we were not included. We also were aware of a lack of communication and reliable information about distribution patterns and timelines from those in charge.
Finally, late in the day Sunday March 14, COVID-related Facebook sites reported vaccinations would be given in Ajijic and Chapala on March 16-18 beginning at 8:00 a.m. They would be for people 65-years-old or older. I had commitments on the first day so I had to wait until the second day, Wednesday, to get my shot. An advantage to waiting a day was being able to read about the experiences of those who went on Tuesday. And their reports, it turned out, were not encouraging or positive.
While many in Ajijic did receive a vaccination that first day, I learned, a large number of people were turned away after waiting in the hot sun for hours. The number of vaccinations delivered was insufficient to serve the demand. The lesson I took from this, as did many others, was to arrive hours before 8:00 to improve one’s chances of receiving a shot.
I arrived at 6:10 a.m. Wednesday. There were approximately 150-200 people ahead of me. Many had canes. More were in walkers. And a good many were in wheelchairs. The line continued to grow behind me and by 8:00 appeared to be well into the hundreds.
As 8:00 neared, I noticed numerous people arriving and walking to the front of the line. They, we learned, were the people turned away the day before; they had received numbers so they could be served first on Wednesday. Suddenly the 150-200 people ahead of me became an irrelevant number.
But that didn’t really matter, because the line did not move at eight. Nor did it move at nine. The reason, we later learned, was that the vaccine delivery, done by the military to protect it from drug cartels or opportunists, was running late. It arrived, as I understand it, before 10:00. The “yesterday” people were served first. And around 12:15, the line began to move. I had been in it for 6 hours at this point.
I received my vaccination a few hours later. It was the SinoVac from China, one receiving generally poor initial reviews based on its sub-standard effectiveness. Therefore, few of those receiving it that day were thrilled with the choice, but were happy to have received anything. We were told we were to receive our second shots in 28 days as was necessary for the inoculations to be effective. We turned in our papers, which included contact information, our email addresses and telephone numbers. This was to facilitate communicating our second shot appointments.
We anticipated receiving a receipt, prove of our receiving the first shot, in exchange for the turned-in paperwork, but we didn’t. That, we learned later, was the result of another organizational screw-up; none of the staff or volunteers brought laptops for input of records, which would have triggered receipts. We were assured repeatedly we would be contacted via email or telephone regarding our second vaccinations.
Long after the 28 days had past, we learned via Facebook posts, not emails or telephone calls, that our receipts were ready. The 2nd vaccines weren’t, but the proof that we long before had received a reputedly weak shot was ready.
While not as disorganized as my March 17 experience, it was, nevertheless, another day of frustrating communication break-downs. But I received my receipt.
By this time, many of my expat and emigré neighbors had given up on the alleged system in this area and were going to the US, where appointments were becoming unnecessary and walk-ins becoming the norm. I decided to join them, although, as I am not the most spontaneous person, in took me a while to act on my decision.
I opted to go to Phoenix and, through Google, learned where vaccinations were being given and what brands were available at those sights. I chose to get the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to simplify things since I would be traveling from another country, and found several locations near my hotel. The one closest, perhaps a 15 to 20 minutes-walk, was a health center and I walked there in the hot, but dry, Arizona heat.
However, upon arrival, I learned that they, as well, as Maricopa County in general, were no longer issuing the J&J. The county had stopped distributing the J&J when it was halted nationally because of reports of health complication from its use. The national stoppage, however, was short-lived. But Maricopa health officials opted not to reinstate J&J use. Therefore, I had to choose between Pfizer and Moderna, each requiring a second trip to Phoenix. I opted for Pfizer.
The process was quick and professionally performed. The staff was helpful and friendly. Ironically, as I was getting my Pfizer in Phoenix, residents of Ajijic, Chapala, and the surrounding area were receiving their second SinoVac. Finally. Long after the recommended 28 days. It was closer to 60. The process, I read, did not run as smoothly as did my Phoenix experience.
My second Pfizer is scheduled for this week. I’ve booked my flight and hotel room. I’m thankful I can afford to do that as many others can’t. Again, opportunities in life are based on economic status, not need. Hopefully, receiving my second vaccine will end my direct involvement with the tragic, infuriating, and frustrating chapter of our lives known as COVID-19 and we will watch it become COVictory19.