A Chicago Police Department squad car welcomed me as I pulled into the 75 S Pulaski Road gate of the venerable Richard J. Daley College. The parking lot of the school was packed with vehicles. It was as if the gate to the City Colleges of Chicago branch was a time portal to a happier moment before December 2019, when the SARS-CoV-2 was already raging in Wuhan, China, but the virus was yet to be exposed to the world by Dr. Li Wenliang.
An ambulance waited at the entrance of the school’s main building, a precaution taken by the Chicago Department of Public Health, just in case me, or any of the hundreds of essential workers taking their shots of the vaccine against Covid-19 during the first phase of the vaccination campaign in the state of Illinois had any of the feared adverse reaction symptoms.
People walked around the parking lot of the old school, but neither the loud and energetic chatting nor the vibrant environment that characterizes college campuses during the Spring semester was present. Instead, an eerie silence and the numbing cold weather that we had been enduring for the last couple of weeks coalesced with the weird, masked social distanced interactions of this time of struggle. The scene made for an appropriate rehearsal of what we have lived through this young year 2021.
When I arrived at the front desk, I felt more in a hospital lobby than in a place of learning. The hallways were generally quiet, impeccably clean, and I could even hear the echo of my steps even though I saw people everywhere. Medical personnel from the CDPH controlled the process. A nurse asked me for the registration code provided by my employer, which certified me as an essential worker and qualified me to receive the vaccine. Then I had to go through all CCC Covid-19 protocols and check my temperature with the CCC staff. The line in the hallway leading to the basketball court — the place selected to hold the vaccination event — was sizable and was composed of healthcare workers in uniform, firefighters and people working in long term care facilities as specified in the Phase 1a of Chicago’s Vaccination Plan rollout.
Healthcare workers in the line were wearing heavy winter apparel, since we received emails from coworkers saying that in previous days, people had to wait out in the cold to be inoculated. The inconvenience of wearing winter apparel indoors — nobody wanted to go back to their cars — forced social distanced conversations among the people in the line that helped relax the ambiance and revealed to me the true feeling of the occasion — solemnity.
I did not know firsthand what vaccine I was going to receive. I found out when the CDPH nurse, after checking my information, gave me handouts that contained the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) released by the Food and Drug Administration for the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine and general advice by the CDC and the CDPH for what to do after getting vaccinated.
I know more now about the Pfizer vaccine than I did when I had my first dose on Jan. 22, 2021. In addition to its previously known 95% efficacy against the new coronavirus, recent studies shared by the portal Science News also suggest that Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine generates a strong enough response from antibodies to reduce people’s ability to transmit Covid19.
Nevertheless, as Nozanin Farrukhzoda wrote in her thorough piece for The Independent on the Covid19 vaccine race, the FDA did not fully approve any of the vaccines developed in America (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna). Moreover, we do not know with certainty their long-term effects. Human testing was insufficient compared with the regular procedures for vaccination approval. And the EUA given to the American companies to produce and administer the shots shields them from any further legal actions by users in case of adverse reactions or death.
Still, nobody in the line at Richard J. Daley College mentioned anything about adverse reaction symptoms, or the certain peril of willingly letting the killer inside our bodies during the hour and 15 minutes we waited for the first vaccine shot. That sensation of uncanniness that I felt in people when I arrived at the vaccination center revealed with the conversations in the line as a deep sense of duty, a sobering realization that by being among the 2% of the world population that had been vaccinated so far, we were making history and giving hope to others at the same time.
Picture: Vaccination Steps. Caption: Steps to follow to get vaccinated at the City of Chicago venues. The facilities are run by the Chicago Department of Public Health (Erwin Lopez Rada/The Independent)
After having the vaccine shot, a trove of City volunteers and CCC staff were attentively checking on us for adverse reactions during the mandatory 15 minutes waiting period and patiently helped people book their second appointments. One of the employees guiding us through the social distanced set basketball court told people in the line “We need to get better at this, next week starts the process for people 65 years and older!”. Certainly, they got better, there was no line inside the basketball court, so it took only a half an hour visit at the same location to get the second vaccine shot.
When I arrived at work after the first dose, I read on the Pfizer’s EUA handout a list of adverse reactions to the vaccine that ranged from mild to severe. My left arm was swollen for a day after the first shot. With the second dose, I had to go home and rest. I experienced cold-like symptoms that ached all over my body, and the subsequent fatigue sent me to bed rather early. Additionally, my left arm was sore for a couple of days. Still, my symptoms were mild.
I know I am privileged for receiving the vaccine so early, but I also must admit that lingering feelings of being a guinea pig for the government and big pharma hit me every now and then. It makes me feel better knowing that I am taking part in the effort to defeat the biggest public health challenge of our generation. We already developed two working vaccines at “warp speed” and the new federal government has set up ambitious plans to defeat the pandemic this year. I am sure more people, as I did, will be willing to take the vaccine, to offer the arm to dissipate fears and extend to others the confidence in science.
If we finally commit to doing everything right in the next couple of months, we will enjoy a future 2021 with laughs, songs, dancing, open stadiums, and shared drinks. We will connect with others using all the array of human emotions with no need for masks or social distancing.
At this moment Chicago is in the 1b phase where Chicagoans 65 years old or more, and other essential workers are getting vaccinated, as well, President Biden prioritized education workers to get the vaccine. The City offers updates to the vaccination program and the possibility to schedule appointments for any of its 12 locations providing the Covid19 shot free of charge here.