Note: All names and identifying details in this essay have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
When batches of COVID-19 vaccines first arrived in New York City, healthcare centers sought volunteers to help vaccinate. As a medical student in Manhattan committed to doing anything I could to facilitate the pandemic response, I signed up right away. What is typically an indoor running track became a makeshift site for COVID-19 vaccines. At 2 p.m., when I arrived, there was a line of people spilling onto the street: hundreds of them patiently waiting on a pea-green turf, double-checking their proofs of appointments, slightly nervous, their faces only partially visible behind their masks.
I was told volunteers were needed in the basement, an area designated for patients with accessibility challenges. So I went downstairs, dropped off my coat, sanitized my hands, and got set up. My first patient was Maxine Gold, a retired teacher in her late 60s who traveled from the tip of Long Island to be vaccinated.
“Ms. Gold, we’ll be giving you the Moderna vaccine today. Do you have any questions before we get started?” I asked. No questions at all. She’d been so excited to receive the vaccine that once her appointment had been confirmed, she held a Zoom party with her friends and close family members. Another virtual celebration with caviar and champagne was already on the calendar for that evening. Dazzling in a black sequined dress, she told me, “I’ve never wanted something this badly in my life. I’ve even worn my nicest dress to experience this moment.”
We went through a list of questions, checking to see if she had any allergies. Then we discussed some of the side effects of the vaccine: injection site soreness, mild temperature elevation, a general feeling of malaise that should subside within a few days. Then, it was time for the shot. She wanted it videotaped so that she could send it to her friends and family afterward ― “Especially the ones who are scared, or don’t want to do it or just want to know what it’s all about — you know, like the super hesitant ones,” she said. When everything was ready to go, a pharmacy technician from an adjacent table came over and held Ms. Gold’s phone. Within a matter of seconds, it was all done.