ON THE SCENE: It’s COVID-19 vaccination time

People administer COVID-19 vaccinations in Plattsburgh. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

On Thursday, March 11, I got my second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination shot at the Plattsburgh Airport site off Arizona Avenue.

As of that date, 33.1% of Essex County residents had received at least one vaccination, about tied with Clinton and Warren Counties for the second-highest rates in the state though behind Hamilton with its remarkable 50.2%.

I was struck by the lack of lines and how attendance was less than three weeks earlier. I asked the health worker the reason. She said that while they were busier at certain times of the day, it was down in part because people now have more choices of where to go as pharmacies and county health departments are vaccinating people. Our region could handle widening the eligibility so more people could get vaccinated.

People who are now eligible to get vaccinated include doctors, nurses and health care workers, first responders and people age 60 and over. Also qualified are all public-facing workers, including teachers, public transit workers, grocery, hospitality, recreation and retail store workers, public safety workers, and New Yorkers with specific comorbidities and underlying conditions.

In the North Country, eligible people include guides, lift attendants, ski instructors, attorneys, people in real estate, and others who engage the public in some face-to-face way. The good news is that there are spaces available; it is a matter of registering either through the COVID hotline at 1-833-697-4829 or with Kinney Drugs or Walgreens. Keep in mind, registering for an appointment is required; you can’t just show up.

Naj Wikoff waits to get a second COVID-19 vaccination. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

In my experience, as is true of others I’ve interviewed, is that that the vaccination sites are exceptionally well organized, the attendants all courteous, the process painless, and at Plattsburgh, you never have to get out of your car.

“It was effortless,” said Anne Hurd. “My arm was sore. That lasted through the night until the next morning, but that was the only negative effect I had. I took the advice I received from many people that drinking a lot of water will minimize the reaction. I think it worked.”

Hurd said that even though she is vaccinated, she still wears a mask when out and about and practices social distancing; she only goes maskless with good friends who have also had their second shot and are similarly careful. Hurd feels that wearing a mask helps encourage others to do the same as she doesn’t feel COVID will end quickly, and to bring it under control, we all need to follow safety guidelines.

Getting vaccinated has brought a lot of joy to peoples’ lives. For Kathy Kernan, it was being able to fly to Chicago to see her 96-year-old father; she hadn’t seen him in a year and a half.

“I am beyond grateful to have this time with him,” said Kernan.

“Getting vaccinated was a huge relief,” said Rob Hastings, owner of Rivermede Farm, which has a market on state Route 73 in Keene Valley. “Being so exposed to the public daily, the fear of getting COVID weighs on you. So getting the second shot was a big relief. The second thing was after I and several of our close friends got their second shot and completed our two-week post-vaccination period, we finally had our first get-together in a year. It was wonderful. We popped a bottle of bubbly. It was great.”

Dan Mason praised the process at the Plattsburgh Airport site, describing the process as very professional with no wait times to mention.

“We have our COVID shot crew, gone out with one of them twice, and dinner at home with one pair two times, and another once,” said Mason. “Our calendar is getting full again. After I got my first shot, I told the attendant that I was so happy, it felt like I got married again. The second time was like that. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. For those who don’t want to do it, I don’t understand. We probably won’t hang out with them.”

Mason feels that perhaps a more significant effort could be made to promote who can now get the shots, as it’s opened up quite a bit. He thinks that seniors and those who may not have computers or be comfortable using the internet may need help signing up. To that end, a boon is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that can be administered in various settings, even in peoples’ homes. An added benefit is that it’s a one-dose vaccine and highly effective.

“We are also ready to take COVID booster shots,” said Mason.

The chance is we will all need them. For example, the annual swine or Avian flu shots we are asked to take annually can be traced back to the 1918 pandemic. Just as the yearly flu has mutant variations from the “Spanish Flu,” so too, COVID will breed its offspring as it’s doing already in Brazil, London, South Africa, and elsewhere.

Not being able to get together with friends is tough. We are social animals. According to Mercy Care, spending quality time with friends or loved ones is essential to our health and sense of well-being. They note that positive social relations can lighten your mood, make you feel happier, and create a sense of belonging, safety and security. At the same time, relationships provide people you can confide in and they with you.

Touch matters. We communicate not just through words, but our eyes, our expressions, our body language and the sound of another’s voice. Ever notice how great you feel happy spending some quality time like an enjoyable meal with friends? These and more are good reasons for getting vaccinated as soon as you can and following public safety guidelines.

“First of all, getting vaccinated has taken the weight of the world off my shoulders,” said Ann Hough. “I was the terrified anxiety-filled family member during COVID. I did all the shopping since my husband has had some immune issues for several years now. Being vaccinated, we still use caution but are feeling whole new freedom and sense of relief.”

Hough shared how her college-age daughter Josie and her four roommates all were exposed to a COVID-positive person. Of them, only her daughter, who was vaccinated because she works summers and weekends at the Elizabethtown hospital, and one other who had gotten and recovered from the disease over Christmas, tested negative. To Hough, her daughter, who has been tested multiple times since and remains disease-free, is a clear example that the vaccine works.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)