Being over 65, I was able to get COVID vaccinations in January. After two shots of Pfizer, I breathed a deep sigh of relief and, over time, haltingly returned to “normalcy.” I also began forgetting to take my mask on occasion when I went out — another sign of relief.

Reality being what it is though, that limited normalcy was short-lived given the arrival of the Delta variant (which some here in Florida call the DeSantis Deviant). Masking became SOP again. That was ok; I have a most fashionable mask made by my neighbor, Fran (and now a bag to go with it!).

On a Friday, two weeks ago, I attended an art opening, masked except when eating noshes or sipping wine. I was delighted to see several similarly-vaccinated friends there and left after about an hour.

But the phone call from Gerry the following Wednesday was unexpected: “I’ve tested positive for COVID and can’t go to dinner tonight.” Our dinner outdoors at my “Cheers bar” and restaurant, Isabelle’s Veranda, is a much-loved weekly habit. Still, I was able to get a COVID test last Saturday and even more fortunate to get “negative” results on Sunday.

Despite the politicized debate over vaccination, I never doubted I would get a booster if they became available. Voila! Even in Florida, boosters are readily available on one of two conditions for people my age: either there’s been an eight-month period between one’s second shot and the booster, or it’s been 28 days since vaccination if you are immunocompromised. I asked at my local Walgreens if COPD was considered “compromised” and was told yes. That’s one of the upsides of having been diagnosed with it a few years ago, yes? Yes!

I filled out what I believed to be the necessary paperwork and waited in barely contained chaos with others standing in multiple lines or just “around” the pharmacy counter, waiting to be vaccinated.

Then … oops, wrong paperwork! So the pharmacy staff completed it. Did I have insurance? Yes. Oops, my insurer, Humana, preferred not to cover the booster, since the government would pay for it. Did I have Medicare B? Yes, as part of my Humana coverage. No, I wasn’t carrying the red, white and blue card that attested to my status.
Social Security number? Yep. And with that I, who was lost in the bowels of administrivia, was found.

The pharmacy staff was unfailingly helpful and solicitous, though I had to smile when the young woman administering shots apologized, saying an “elderly lady” needed to be seen ahead of me. The absence of a wheelchair must have signified I wasn’t “elderly;” I’ll take that as an affirmation of my vitality!

I also experienced a Zen kind of acceptance of the experience — complications, chaos and all. Instead of irritation or impatience during the hour I waited, I kept feeling appreciation. We were all in the same leaky boat and doing the best we could. It’s a feeling I want to bottle and keep with me, as reality continues to be just what it is.
THAT is the point of this story, actually. That, and one more thing: a heartfelt appeal to everyone to get vaccinated, if you aren’t already, and to get a booster if you can.

“According to recent CDC studies, people who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 are 29.2 times as likely to be hospitalized due to the coronavirus as fully vaccinated people. The study also found that infection rates among unvaccinated people were nearly five times those of the fully vaccinated.” [Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC]

“A recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that vaccinated immunocompromised people are 485 times more likely to end up in the hospital or die from Covid-19 compared to the general population that is vaccinated. Based on an estimate by the CDC, about 9 million Americans are immunocompromised, either because of diseases they have or medications they take.” [FDA authorizes additional Covid-19 vaccine doses for certain immunocompromised people, CNN]

By definition, HIV/AIDS is an immunocompromised condition. Treatments for certain types of cancer also suppress the immune system. HIV/AIDS and cancer continue to ravage the LGBTQ community. Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two-shot sequence are approved for boosters. The CDC is still studying whether booster shots are effective with the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine.

Yes, I am aware of a long list of objections to getting vaccinated. Yes, I understand citing scientific evidence or an emotional appeal supporting vaccination doesn’t work for everyone. I live in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis has outlawed mask mandates, while 21,000+ people are diagnosed with COVID every day as Florida takes the tragic role of accounting for one-fifth of all COVID-related deaths across the US.

I can’t reach those of you who prefer “personal freedom” and conspiracy lies over community well-being. For everyone else: Please, for your own sake and for the sake of those you love, get vaccinated if you haven’t already. If you are vaccinated, get a booster shot if you can. Mask. Socially distance. Take care.

You’re the only you we’ve got, and you’re too important to lose to a disease that is highly contagious and deadly — and can be avoided by taking basic precautions. If that last sentence sounds like a throwback to the 1990s, by the way, it is.