Vaccine Collage

Below are accounts of vaccination from several authors.

By Sarah Perkins

Check crossed fingers hovering over search bar. Google local vaccines in your area. Kill time looking for time slots. Rinse. Repeat. You are too young for your community centre to care about your well-being. Look elsewhere. Check sweat-slick fingers on steering wheel out of town. Seek vaccines south of city lines. See that beach is open–but not on weekends—worry about the spread of too much summer fun anyways. Enter a community centre surrounded by strangers. Sit in a plastic cubicle across from a man wearing a mask with too many teeth. Feel out of place. Check cold fingers of doctor as he pushes syringe into your arm. Wonder why you are surprised to see a doctor doing this. Would have let yourself be vaccinated by anyone. You are too desperate for your community centre to care about your well-being. Sit and wait for side-effects. Sit and wait for side-effects. Head home. Press still sweat-slick fingers into left arm to see if it hurts. It does. Wait for the bruising to fade. Kill time waiting for a second dose. Rinse. Repeat.

“Right Arm Man” By LA Alfonso

I didn’t bring a book to my vaccine appointment. I was going to keep my eyes and ears open, I told myself. I wanted to soak everything in so I could write about it later. Later is now, and I remember that I was holding back my tears most of the time. I hadn’t seen this kind of organized volunteer community since I was last at a film or music festival. I felt like I was participating in something historical, and I also felt like I was doing this despite what my oldest and closest friend would like me to do. My best friend said he would never get vaccinated. There were some angry-sad late-night phone calls raging against what he saw as a world disappearing. He said he wanted to buy a piece of land. He said he wanted to build an invisible fence that only lets anti-vaxxers in. He said he could get forty acres cheap near Port Hope. Probably not too contaminated. I feel helpless about trying to change his opinion about anything.
            I sat and waited for the vaccinator to roll over with her dim sum cart of needles. What’s on the menu? “It’s Moderna today,” the white-haired vaccinator said in a tone that seemed to invite protest in case I was opposed to the brand. “Okay,” I said, and she relaxed. I wanted to get Pfizer because I researched the scientists that developed the BioNTech vaccine. “They are mixing it up now,” the Vax Lady said, “it doesn’t matter what vaccine you get next — right or left?” I said, “Right,” mindful that she doesn’t pierce the heart tattoo on my left arm; that just feels wrong. “Now relax your arm,” she said. I realized all the tension I had been carrying. I loosened my body’s hold. “There you go,” she said, switching to a sing-song voice. “You’re doing well.”
            I saw the needle. The liquid inside looked like a drop of concentrated pink champagne. She jabbed and plunged. Something like a cork popped inside of me, and I burst out laughing. It echoed in the big room. I stopped. “I always laugh,” I said. The Vax Lady said, “Oh, do you?” She continued, “You didn’t bleed, so I don’t have to put a band-aid on you.” I said, “I’ll take one anyway, in case it starts to bleed later.” “Okay,” she said. “You’ll just have to draw your own smiley face on it then.” She handed me a small square containing a small circle Band-Aid. She placed a sticker on my lap that said, “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine!” Then, in Sharpie, “Monitor until 2:13 PM.” She wheeled her cart away. I looked at my phone. It said, “1:58 PM.”
            As I waited, I watched the constant stream of people from all walks of life come and get checked in at one of the tables in a row encased with plexiglass protectors. The volunteer greeter welcomed the stream of people one at a time, “Hi. Please head on down to check-in at table letter E as in Egg.” With the next one, she said, “Please head on down to check in at table letter D for Donut.” Thirteen hundred people come through every day. That’s what the steward said. He talked to me intermittently while I waited for my dose. I wanted a book to read, but then I remembered that I was supposed to be soaking everything in. I’m staying present to be fully in the moment.
            I saw guys walk in looking just like my best friend. I had an impulse to call him on the phone right then and say, “Hey! Look! It’s okay.” There are regular people here. We’re all just wanting to get back to living. If the world is out to get me, I would rather be the one who says, “I love life.” If the world wants to bury me alive, I would rather be the one who says “I love you.” If life is but a dream, I’d rather see myself happy and trusting in that dream-world than to see myself angry, fearful, and confused. If it’s a choice between one illusion and another, I’d instead pick the one that keeps me smiling. “Just drink the Kool-Aid,” another friend’s voice pops in my head. “I’m doing it in exchange for social privileges,” she had said to me the other day.
            We brandished our plastic health cards and lab coats aimed light guns at the barcodes, and the system instantly recognized the holder. I thought to myself, “this is what privilege looks like and it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.” I don’t know if I can convince my friend to look at the vaccine rollout as a gift of life, and it’s worth participating in this biotechnical achievement. Or maybe I’m just drinking the electronic Kool-Aid to prove that the grand conspiratorial experiment worked. People will do anything for social privileges; we are accustomed to jumping inside boxes to “belong.” I imagine that statement inspiring anger in my best friend to start spitting and separating himself by pointing out the differences between each other until he’s left thoroughly lonely and isolated with all his splendid uniqueness.
            “Done,” said the Vax Lady. “Now, follow the yellow brick road behind you there and check out with one of the girls at the table.” There were sheets of yellow paper taped to the floor with arrows pointing everyone in the right direction. “Huh — the yellow-brick road,” I muttered. I was thinking of that picture I recently found of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz standing at the start of the yellow brick spiral that straightened out to the road where she meets her friends who are on the same journey. She left behind the munchkins for an uncertain future propelled forward by an inner vision of herself.
            “I’m half-vaxxed,” a friend would later tell me, moving in for a hug. “Not to be vaxxist, but I’m fully vaxxed,” someone joked. Yeah, no. Didn’t Dorothy just want to go back home?

By Patricia Harte-Maxwell

March 30: Pfizer vaccination appointments opened to those 16 and older in the state.
            April 5: The county government emails me an appointment reminder: my mum has refreshed the webpage every minute for the whole morning to get her, my dad, and I appointments. Print the QR code and consent form. Bring them and photo identification to your appointment.
            April 9: The vaccination clinic is housed in the convention center sitting empty for the last year. A series of volunteers like successive dams control the flow of paper-clutching-mask-wearers. The first points a thermometer to mine and my parents’ heads before stepping aside. The next asks if we have our ids, consent forms, and QR codes then directs us to a line partitioned by ropes. At the head of the line, watching over it as it extends farther and farther back is another volunteer behind whom are four tables where ids and forms are checked, and codes scanned. They are not for show. I have miswritten my birthday on my consent form. The volunteer hands me a pen to correct it then points us towards a set of doors where another volunteer blocks entry. We have made it through one hallway.
            Past this volunteer is a cavernous room divided by cloth sheets arranged into a border of privacy tents like the opaque huts of witchdoctors: You go in bundled up and emerge on the other side, transformed. But before that are more volunteers, more checkpoints. The river divides into streams. The volunteer at the door points me down the line to a lettered station. I hand over my consent form again. It is added to an ever-growing stack. I am handed a piece of cardstock the size of a business card. My vaccine card. I thought it would be more . . . just more. Rather than filling out the information by hand, the volunteer has printed a label with my information. They point me to the tent with the corresponding letter.
            Two nurses, I assume by their scrubs, are inside and two chairs and a freezer.
            I sit.
            One of the nurses kindly asks which arm I’d like my shot in. I choose my left. I stare pointedly away. She places a band-aid over the site and points through the opposite side of the tent where I entered. I am directed to wait for 15 minutes and drink a bottle of water which are located on table in the center of the room, like an island in the center of chairs methodically placed six feet apart. A large digital clock is projected onto the east wall to which all the chairs face. In a corner is a panel of people typing away at laptops. Periodically a volunteer walks to them with stacks of consent forms collected from the pre-tent tables.
            I look for my parents and watch them emerge together from another tent. I have grabbed them water bottles. We sit for 15 minutes hoping and dreading. What does a bad reaction look like, feel like?
            We leave out a side door; we watch a wave of vaccine seekers flock into the building. A new group will be processed every 15 minutes.
            April 26: An email with my appointment reminder. Highlighted in yellow: We also ask that you bring a valid form of identification and your consent paperwork. Please fill out the consent paperwork . . . and remember to bring your vaccine card.
April 30: More volunteers. More papers. We move, as previously, quickly through the motions. My vaccine card is stickered over again.
            Sequestered away in a tent I am asked about my reaction to the first dose. My arm ached and was inflamed for a week after. Apparently, I had a severe reaction. I choose my left arm again.
            I sit for 15 minutes and drink a bottle of water with my parents. I use my phone to scan my vaccine card. A young man sitting beside us, six feet away, calls a volunteer over. He does not feel okay. Our 15 minutes are over. We leave the same way as last time.
            May 1: My parents are tired and sore but otherwise feel fine. We are excited that in two weeks we will hopefully have immunity.

By Kelly Gair

I get in just before my official wave,
My heart suddenly races, pounding my chest,
In fright I look at the clock on the wall,
Am I having a bad reaction?
But No,
It is simply my body catching up,
Quicker than my brain,
Demanding to be heard,
Still Unbelieving,
The monument of this moment floors me,
I am Vaccinated
I. Am. Vaccinated.
I am,
So grateful,

Emotional, joyful: I am living history,
Infected with human endeavour,
And I am proud to wear this still bleeding badge,
Quite literally,
On my sleeve,

I look around me to share in this moment,
After all, euphoria is catching,

But No.

They are all sat,
Heads lowered,
Eyes cast down,
Unreachable in a way that has nothing to do,
With sitting apart from each other,
Unreachable in a way that is,
And has the potential to be Self-cured,
The desire is present,
And the host willing,

I remain the isolated 1% of the 99% more focused on their phones,
This historical, fleeting, and life-changing moment having irrevocably passed them: Goodbye,
A different kind of Contagion,
A different kind of human loss,
There is no camaraderie,
No Sympathy or Empathy either,

I remain
completely alone…