In the Suburbs: This senior couldn't be more thankful for his vaccine gold star

Old age does have some advantages. As a member of the over-75 club, I was part of the first wave of Connecticut residents to receive my COVID-19 vaccine.

I had the first shot of the Moderna vaccine on Feb. 4 after the big storm. Today, March 2, despite the high wind literally blowing me down the sidewalk to the entrance of the Stratford Health Department, I walked out barely a half hour later with a pseudo COVID Gold Star after my second inoculation. I had the distinction of being the oldest and the first teacher in my school to be vaccinated.

I am literally writing this column “in the moment,” since I just received the vaccine this morning and I am waiting to see if I have any side effects from this second dose. The nurse at the health department couldn’t have been nicer and more patient. And she was a goldmine of information. She explained that everyone has a different reaction to the vaccine and promptly shared her own story that within 13 hours she was suffering from chills and fever.

“That’s a good thing,” the nurse told me, “because it means your body is making the antibodies needed to fight off any future COVID illness. More importantly, that reaction means that your immune system is fighting hard to keep you healthy. I was incapacitated for about two days.”

Meanwhile, I still have another 10 hours or more to see whether I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus or whether my now sore arm is the only ill effect I’ll have from my inoculation. In any case, I pulled the plug on returning to school today and I am very thankful that tomorrow is remote day. My only in-person obligation will be my shift at the bookstore, which is scheduled at 3 p.m. And I may cover my rear end by emailing my boss that I’ll have to weigh keeping my shift until tomorrow morning.

I was absolutely amazed at how streamlined the vaccinating process had become in just four weeks. When I arrived Feb. 4, the line to receive paperwork was long and I empathized with other seniors, who were frail and had difficulty standing and walking. It took well over an hour to get through the process. Now, the rule is to stay in the car until your appointment.

I couldn’t get over the difference. I had arrived way too early but once I got inside, I was in and out in less than a half hour. The staff and volunteers had ironed out any kinks and COVID vaccinating was a well-oiled machine. Color me impressed.

Nevertheless, today seemed almost surreal when I arrived this morning for my inoculation. Just about a year ago, school administrators were making decisions to close for an indefinite quarantine. Businesses were shuttering right and left, causing millions of Americans to be furloughed or abruptly fired for seemingly no good reason.

I remember colleagues on March 13, the day we closed, saying things like, “Hey, we’ll see you back here in no time.” Not! Instead, this indefinite quarantine felt like we were under house arrest. I remember my favorite news commentators saying that if couples were still together when this homebound situation ended, they had definitely made the right choice in a partner.

Now, here we are, barely a year later with over a half million loved ones, friends and healthcare workers living in our memories instead of being with us at home, work and hospitals. We’ve watched so many needless deaths and seen so much cavalier behavior concerning masks and social distancing. But most of all, we’ve seen so many non believers fall victim or suffer some form of the illness.

Thankfully, under this new, more organized presidential administration, executing a well thought-out strategic plan, Americans are finally receiving hundreds of million doses of vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson. And in Connecticut, 55 and older recipients along with teachers were being inoculated within days of Gov. Lamont’s announcement.

Fairfield’s first school clinic was held earlier this week and rapidly organized clinics in other towns across Connecticut are sure to follow. Response to the Fairfield clinic was amazing and patient levels will surely remain high.

I even received a text on March 1 that pharmacies were beginning to schedule appointments. Soon, these pharmacies giving the vaccine will become as routine as administering, flu, shingles and pneumonia shots.

So, I am vaccinated at last and can breathe a little easier. But will I get a free ride to losing my mask, ignoring social distancing and hugging my children and grandchildren and old friends? Hardly.

We are not out of the woods and not likely to return to any kind of “new normal” soon. Scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci are saying we won’t see a radical change until later this year and possibly beyond. The vaccine is only a first step. The rest is up to us. And if we don’t unify under the proper guidelines, we could face a major regression.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at