Tom Clyde: Only 118 million ahead of me
This week, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan was the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 virus outside of a clinical trial. Other people have had it in the testing stages, but she is the first “civilian.” The second was an elderly gent named Bill Shakespeare. Both were living in long-term care facilities, though they seemed healthy and sound. There were not balloon drops or bands playing. This was in Britain, after all, so the event was marked with polite applause from attending nurses and a nice cup of tea.
Maybe it marks the beginning of the end of this. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is taking its time making the approval. While it’s great that the experts are studying the data and being careful, the deciding board also seems to be working at a leisurely pace compared to the 24/7 schedule the folks in the lab have been keeping for 10 months now. But approval seems imminent in the U.S. There are enough doses already cooked and frozen to vaccinate 20 million people (it takes two shots to complete it), with more on the way.
Twenty million sounds like a lot, and it is, but there are 330 million or so of us in America, so it’s not exactly reached a Dunkin’ Donuts level of saturation. It will be months before any of us can expect to walk into the grocery store and get the vaccination while picking up a quart of milk. There are difficult discussions about the ethics of rationing the vaccine. Who should get it first?
I think everybody would agree that the front line intensive care unit staffers, from the nurses and doctors to the orderlies and cleaners, ought to be at the head of the line. The dermatologists can maybe wait with the rest of us. Ambulance drivers, first responders and teachers as it becomes more widely available. Nursing home residents have been extremely hard hit by the virus. They are near the top of the list in the U.K., and probably will be here, too, though you can make an argument that the 95-year-old who has little time left under the best of circumstances maybe shouldn’t preclude the 30-year-old teacher from getting a vaccination. Ethics can be difficult to work through. The one thing the world seems to agree on is that poor countries are on their own, as usual.
Ethics aside, the question on everybody’s mind is, when do I get mine? The New York Times has a little interactive form that helps tell you where you are on the priority list. It asks your age, where you live, whether you have critical job exposures and other health factors that might elevate the risk. You plug those factors in the form and it tells you where you are in line.
It turns out there are only 118.5 million people in line ahead of me nationwide. That seems like a lot. That’s slightly worse than trying to get a “week-of” reservation to ski at Park City Mountain Resort on the Epic Pass website. Reduced to the county level, the form determined that there are 9,100 people ahead of me in Summit County.
In Summit County, we aren’t supposed to have to wait for anything. We’re special. So I fudged the form a bit. According to the Utah Division of Drinking Water, I’m a critical employee because I manage a public drinking water system. Yeah, we only have 33 connections, most of them seasonal, but the state of Utah says I’m essential.The New York Times wasn’t convinced. My place in line barely moved. If I have heart disease, I can move up substantially, surging into position behind only 23 million nationally. That could be next month, except that I don’t have heart disease.
I’m old enough to remember the mass polio vaccination. It’s been surprisingly difficult to place a date on it. I expected the newspapers would be full of photos of people lined up, but was unable to pin it down. The early 1960s seems about right. I clearly recall the whole neighborhood lining up outside of the local LDS church building. The gym/overflow room had been outfitted with rows of tables. There were paper cups with sugar cubes in them, and we each walked down one of the rows and a nice lady would give us our sugar cube. Apparently it took three doses, so we lined up three weeks in a row. That’s a detail I didn’t remember. Mostly I remember there was a sense of joy and relief in my parents as they walked us up the street to get the vaccine against a terrible disease.
We all knew somebody who had been affected by polio, and the chance to be free of that dread was wonderful even to a little kid who didn’t understand any of it. So I guess I’ll settle into my place in line at 118.5 million and one, and hope the COVID vaccine distribution goes smoothly.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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