Getting my COVID-19 vaccine in Silicon Valley

You can get a selfie with a cutout of Dr. Fauci at the Mountain View Community Center. Photo by author.

When the pandemic first started, I wanted to journal and write about my experiences during this time. A year into the pandemic and I’ve yet to write anything. Earlier this week, I was blessed to get my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Mountain View Community Center. I’ve spoken to a few different people who’ve had their shots in the Bay Area and elsewhere. Since it seems experiences are varied, here’s a short account of my experience.

The hardest part of my experience was actually getting an appointment. A few weeks ago, I signed up with Dr. B, a service that’s supposed to notify you when extra doses are available. But then a few weeks passed and I hadn’t heard anything from Dr. B. I started hearing of people getting vaccine appointments in the Bay Area through other channels. So I decided to more actively look for an appointment. Vaccine appointments (at least in the Bay Area) are sadly decentralized — you can’t just go to one website and look for an appointment. After a few days of sporadically looking, I realized that I needed a system. I bookmarked a bunch of sites that offered vaccines in my area:

I tend to wake up pretty early … so then every morning when I woke up (usually between 5 am and 6 am), I’d check for appointments at every one of these sites. The problem with this system (aside from not having one central aggregator to look up appointments) is that most of these sites won’t let you see if they even have any slots open until you answer a questionnaire about your eligibility for the vaccine and your history with allergies to vaccines. And these questionnaires are not standardized — some providers ask more questions, some ask less. And after you’ve spent about five minutes answering questions about your eligibility, you then learn that they do not in fact have any appointments open. :(

I also quickly realized that I needed to create accounts with most of these providers. There was one or two instances where I found a slot … but by the time I created an account (or reset my password for an old account that I couldn’t get into), the appointment slot was taken. :( :( :(

Screenshot of my vaccine bookmarks folder in Chrome. Screenshot by author.

After a few days of diligently looking every morning, I started seeing more appointments pop up. But they were all in California cities I’d never heard of. When I’d look up these cities, they were usually outside of Sacramento … about an hour outside of Sacramento! If you’re not familiar with Northern California and the Bay Area, Sacramento is already a bit of a hike for me. And these appointments were usually early in the morning like 8 am. I considered signing up for one of these appointments but I just wasn’t sure that I’d be able to drive the 3 hours or so that early in the morning. One morning I was able to find an appointment through Stanford in Emeryville (much much closer to me — about an hour away and still in the Bay Area) in the middle of the day on a Sunday … but it was 2 months away! It seemed like my best shot at getting vaccinated so I signed up. I continued to look for other appointments every morning but the Emeryville appointment continued to be my best option in terms of distance and time.

A few days passed and I was taking a break from work to make my lunch when I learned (through Next Door) that Santa Clara County had opened up a bunch of appointments. I quickly hopped on my laptop and after a few minutes of answering a questionnaire similar to the one I had answered so many other times, I was able to get an appointment in a few days at the Mountain View Community Center! I was beyond elated — not only was I able to get vaccinated sooner but it would be a very short drive from home. I canceled my Emeryville appointment.

I was a bit nervous when I headed out for my shot on Monday afternoon. I wasn’t nervous so much about the vaccine itself (I trust the science) but I was a bit worried that somehow I’d get turned down or that I wouldn’t be able to get the shot for some reason. When I signed up for my appointment, Santa Clara County didn’t list which vaccine I’d be getting (other providers like retail pharmacies seem to list which vaccine you’ll get). I really wanted to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and I was concerned that I’d have to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Now I know experts are recommending that people get whatever vaccine they’re offered but I wanted one of the mRNA vaccines … partly because both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines seem to be more effective than J&J … but partly because I love the idea of a vaccine that doesn’t actually inoculate you with the virus (but rather changes how your body reacts to the virus).

The Mountain View Community Center is a mass vaccination site. Arriving there on Monday afternoon, it was very busy but there was almost a festival like atmosphere. It was a beautiful sunny spring Bay Area day … and I was almost expecting to hear a band or DJ playing. Volunteers were there to direct you where to park and where to go. The rest of the process was smooth, efficient, and very easy. In some ways, it almost felt like a race expo (remember those?!). I wouldn’t have been surprised to get a race bib at one station and then a race t-shirt at another. :)

I first checked-in with one volunteer who checked my ID and that I had an appointment. She handed me a packet of information to complete (which included the same questionnaire that I had already answered online when I scheduled the appointment). At the top of the packet was a small blue slip of paper that said, “Pfizer Vaccine.” I was relieved! In true California fashion, I completed my paperwork leaning over a large planter in the sun. I was then passed off to a few more volunteers who checked my paperwork, ID, and insurance card (you don’t need insurance to get a vaccine but if you have health insurance they’ll bill your insurance company). Before I knew it, I was shuttled to a very nice nurse who asked where I wanted my shot. And in less than a second, I had received my first shot!

The packet of information I needed to complete before I received my vaccine. Photo by author.

After getting my shot, I was sent to a very large waiting room to schedule my second appointment and then wait for about 15 minutes just in case I experience any adverse effects from the vaccine. The room was very large and fairly packed (there were maybe about 50 other people there). Despite the room being packed with people, chairs were placed socially distanced apart. I noticed that volunteers would disinfect the chairs after every person. Again, there was a very light and upbeat atmosphere in the room. I overheard one volunteer congratulating an elderly woman for being fully vaccinated. As I was putting away my stuff and sending texts, I realized that I saw and interacted with more people getting my vaccine than I had during the entire pandemic.

I waited around for about 20 minutes. Partly because I wanted to be extra safe that I was fine (I was) and partly because the researcher in me had missed people watching and observing humans. There was a cutout of Dr. Fauci that you could take a selfie with. I was tempted to do so but then after watching so many people manhandle Dr. Fauci’s cutout, somehow that didn’t seem in keeping with the hygiene protocols I’d been adhering to for over a year. Maybe next time after I’ve had my second shot I’ll feel more confident in getting a selfie with Dr. Fauci. There was also a large wall with messages that people had left for why they were getting the vaccine. I started reading some of the messages but then had to stop because I was getting emotional.

A wall of messages people had left for why they were getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by author.

I was telling my manager (who’s based in New York) about my experience getting the vaccine. She asked me, “Did you have the National Guard?” Apparently the only way to get New Yorkers to wait for 15 minutes is by having the National Guard there to enforce the rule. :D

I’m really grateful that I was able to get the vaccine this early. I was fully expecting that I’d need to wait until September. I’m grateful for the scientists around the world who worked tirelessly (and not just this past year but for years) to create vaccines for the rest of us. I’m grateful for the people manufacturing the vaccines, the people transporting them, the people managing all these vaccines sites, and the nurses vaccinating us. I’m optimistic that our lives will start returning to normal in the next year.

I’m a UX research lead at Google, where I help teams design and build desirable and easy to use products. Outside of work, I love art, Peloton, and Lego.

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