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VALERIE SCHULTZ: The shots heard 'round the family

Valerie Schultz

Valerie Schultz

My exciting pastime for 2021 is keeping track of the vaccination status of my family members. Since we are spread over four states, it’s been interesting — and a bit maddening — to note the differing priorities and rules among the states.

Some are stricter than others in their criteria for qualifying for vaccination. Some require appointments. Some have been allotted smaller supplies of the vaccines, which makes it trickier to get those appointments.

I carry a little spreadsheet in my brain specifying official state guidelines for vaccine eligibility, which drug manufacturer, first or second dose, dates of shots, unpleasant reactions, time to full immunity, and my secret level of worry for each person. My list of subjects includes my children, their spouses and significant others, my siblings, their spouses, their children, my in-laws, and really, anyone else I love who posts their vaccination status on social media.

I suspect I am not alone in this cataloguing. Having come this far in literally surviving the pandemic, we now have to be cognizant of the risk factors and recommendations for gathering. It hardly seems fair that after more than a year of taking care not to get infected, we still have to worry, post-vaccination, about doing our part to keep the virus from spreading farther and mutating further than it already has. But as the CDC continues to update us based on the evolving scientific data, we must do our part for the common good. And we must trust others to do the same.

My mental spreadsheet is a source of hope in a bleak era. After not seeing or hugging some of our loved ones for many months, my husband and I are making tentative plans to reunite with them. We can’t go backwards and get Thanksgiving or Christmas back, but we can perhaps look forward to a less-fraught Fourth of July. Of course, we also aren’t taking anything for granted, a hard lesson of 2020 that may serve us well in the future. The past timeline is littered with airline credits for flights untaken, canceled hotel reservations, missed birthdays, postponed graduations, scaled-down weddings, shelved live performances and unspent vacation funds.

Normal life has been replaced by virtual everything. The past year has gifted us with memories of Zoom awkwardness, alternate plans, extra streaming subscriptions, a bit too much isolation, a few too many extra pounds, musical instruments we have not mastered, second languages we have not learned to speak, and friends we meant to contact.

For some people, there has been a glut of "me" time; for others, there has been nowhere near enough time in a day. Underlying everything has been the constant, low-level hum of anxiety about yourself or someone you love catching COVID and falling gravely ill. Tragically, for some folks it’s been a year of jobs lost, homes lost, health care lost, faith lost and lives lost. You could say it’s been a stressful time.

But now we have shots.

It has become easier for Americans to figure out who can get a shot, and where, and which one. Still, the politicization of vaccination — a thing that need not be political — has hindered a robust response on the part of some folks: Sometimes science is not enough to overcome irrational fear. There are other glitches, such as a worrying trend of people getting their first shot and then neglecting to show up for their second one, which will adversely affect the country’s overall immunity.

There is a new reluctance to take the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine after reports of serious complications. One of my darlings had received that one just two days before its use was briefly suspended. She calmly and wisely calculated the odds of blood clots occurring at less than one in a million, which set my mind at ease. New strains of the virus may yet require booster shots to keep us safe, or even an annual update, much like the flu shot we currently get every fall.

Slowly but surely, my family is getting vaccinated. We share war stories of reactions to the second shot, and issue warnings to stock up on juice, Advil and blankets to get through the subsequent 24 hours of flu-like symptoms. My vaccination spreadsheet is nearing completion.

My husband and I are among the last in the family to get our second shots, so we are mildly dreading our turn. At the same time, we are filled with anticipation to get our vaccination cards completed, imagining a watchful return to life as it once was, the customs and traditions and practices we have postponed, the small moments of sharing meals and jokes and closeness with the people we love so much. It’s totally worth a jab or two.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com. The views expressed here are her own.

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