Last Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. Peg and I joined supplicants from numerous Oklahoma communities at the Grant County Health Department in Medford, Oklahoma, population one thousand. Medford is 105 miles from our home in Barnsdall, Oklahoma but there were pilgrims there from even further away. The convocation had the feel of a Hadj with the tiny health department being the Ka’bah and Medford being Mecca. Instead of seeking a later reward we were all beseeching the higher authority, our government, for salvation here and now from COVID-19.
The congregation consisted of a continuous stream of persons all of whom had the same color hair, were of similar size and shape and shuffled along as if in fear of falling. Because Medford’s Health Department is staffed with small-town Oklahomans who were born in the 20th century they were unfailingly friendly and efficient. Peg and I arrived early, of course, as did many others and were welcomed in out of the forty mile per hour cold wind gusts into the 10’ x 20’ reception area. We were there about 45 minutes, most of that time being required to see if either of us had a bad reaction to the shots; we did not. However, since these supplicants were mainly friendly refugees from an Oklahoma of the 1940’s and 50’s, in that time we learned more about them and they about us than any government census worker ever would.
Our experience with the fine folks of Medford, most of whom were unpaid volunteers, was difficult to reconcile with America’s over all response to COVID-19. Whereas our federal government should receive praise for developing vaccines in record time, we have fallen way, way short in delivering the vaccine. Every day the battle we are in with the constantly mutating virus becomes more dangerous and ’Ole 19 has already killed over 450,000 of us.
Toni Morrison (1931-2019) has her main character, Milkman, in her novel Song of Soloman thinking, “Perhaps all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?” Morrison clearly understood Franz Kafka’s (1883-1924) anguished frustration with the legal system in his novel The Trial. Kafka’s main character, Joseph K, cannot even get the legal system to explain what he is charged with or why. William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) Macbethsums it up: “Life is a tale told by an idiot”. Apparently Morrison, Kafka and Shakespeare were trying to get their governments to provide something as essential as a COVID-19 vaccination or whatever basic public service they needed then.
Whereas most of us are amazed that our government ramped up vaccines in about one year, the euphoria over discovery appears to have interfered with actually inoculating us. It is as if we have been so proud of finding a potential prevention of the plague that we have failed to develop a plan to employ the prevention. At the rate we are inoculating ourselves ’Ole 19 will mutate us out of existence. Supposedly millions of doses of vaccines will soon be shipped to CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. That is great but if our government has to use the existing Internet portal system, the virus will outpace us. We must be able to sign up “at the door” of the pharmacies or have the vaccine delivered and applied at our doors. We have already appropriated trillions of dollars to respond to COVID-19. We have spent enough taxpayer vaccination money to send a trained UPS, FedEx, Amazon worker or National Guard soldier to every one of our 330 million citizens with a needle and a vile of vaccine and the knowledge, training and emergency supplies to check for and respond to any bad reactions. Although in the millions of shots already given there have been virtually no deaths reported. We are allowing an extremely unlikely deadly reaction to the vaccination to interfere with the delivery of the vaccine and the almost guaranteed possibility the virus will continue to kill us in huge numbers if we do not quickly vaccinate a large percentage of our population. Another possibility would be to have the vaccines delivered directly to us and then allow us to contact medical providers of our choice to inject them. After all, millions of us receive billions of doses of medication by mail already.
We inoculated the whole country for polio without so much as a ripple. We all have had shots for smallpox, measles, TB, etc., etc. without this bottleneck. As Jonathan Reiner, Professor of Medicine at George Washington University, said back in January 2021, “The bottleneck is actually the logistics of vaccinating people (not the supply of the vaccine)”. And former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated in The Wall Street Journal, “New variants of the virus that appear more contagious increase the urgency to deploy the vaccine as fast as possible”.
The craziness of signing up on Internet portals, waiting in lines of vehicles or waiting in lines outside in the weather adds another level to Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321) Inferno. Americans can order everything from food to computers over the Internet and get them sent overnight right to our doors with simple instructions on how to use them. A packaged, pre-loaded syringe packed in dry ice is not a space shot problem. A looped YouTube video and public TV demonstration would get to 99% of our cell phones and homes for those who wish to DIY.
If our government does not think we, their bosses, are competent to give ourselves or our families shots then why not use each state’s National Guard or our 2 ½ million regular military personnel. When I joined the United States Air Force fifty-eight years ago, they gave us enough inoculations in one day to save the world from all known diseases and some not even thought of. Surely we can adapt from that system.
By the way, in a week or two after we get the promised email notices from the Oklahoma Board of Health, Peg will have to get back on the online portal to schedule appointments for our second shots at a location somewhere around the state. Hopefully it won’t take a month of checking daily/hourly to schedule the second dose as it did with the first. And, of course, we each have to get a separate appointment within the three to four week allotted period before the next dose is due. All this must take place while the virus continues to out fox us.