My 40th Birthday Gift from the Governor

I got the vaccine the first day I was eligible

The vaccine line outside St. John Arena, March 19, 2021

Fifty-three weeks to the day after the shutdowns began, I got my first Covid shot. One dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is working its way through my body. I couldn’t be happier.

I’m still in disbelief that it happened so quickly. When the vaccines started rolling out in December, I optimistically checked where I’d be in line. As expected, I was very far back: 10 million people were estimated ahead of me in Ohio; 1.1 million of them in Franklin County alone. In a state of 12 million, this made me the car that determinedly queues up at the drive thru during the lunch rush; so eager for those french fries, I’m content to wait in the street behind cars spilling out of the parking lot.

I thought of a far off date when it might be my turn — settling on July as a realistic timeframe — and geared up for a long winter, another spring indoors. For most of the winter, things were moving at the expected pace: healthcare workers, nursing home residents; people over 75, then 70, then hovering at 65+ for what we were told in late February would be an indefinite period of time. “We will hold at 65-years-old (eligibility) until we’re clear people have been able to get their shots in that age group,” Governor Mike DeWine said on February 22. “When you have a scarce product, which unfortunately this vaccine still is, this is the best way to go to save the most lives.”

Some careers, like teaching, gave you priority. Some careers, like waiting tables, did not, even though they should have. Through it all, I was glad to wait my turn. We’d adapted to life at home over the past year — what was another few months so people at higher risk could go ahead of me?

And then, all of a sudden, things started moving quickly. Maybe it was the discipline of the new administration; maybe it was the vaccine manufacturers ramping up production; maybe it was getting through the elderly. Most likely, it was all of the above. In a rollout so rapid I can’t find the exact dates, the age brackets dropped, perhaps 5 years one week, a decade the next. Tired of keeping the state in suspense, DeWine made an announcement on March 16 that no one seemed to be anticipating: 40 year olds could start getting the vaccine on March 19, with all adults eligible 10 days later. I squealed with joy when I heard the news.

I turned 40 at the end of January. I didn’t get to have the party I’d been planning in my head for years, didn’t get to toast the beginning of a new decade with my friends. I didn’t even get to go out to dinner. I got the vaccine instead.

I stayed grounded during the Covid year through group text threads. We’ve covered everything from frustration with remote learning to terror over case numbers to processing the election. We’ve traded tips on topics including unemployment, dealing with kids in quarantine, and talking stubborn elderly relatives into rolling up their sleeves for a shot. And when we needed an escape, we shared cute animal videos, dumb memes, and often, emojis of wine. Just wine. Many many glasses of red cartoon wine.

Fittingly, it was one of these threads that led me to the shot. A friend’s sister-in-law told her about a clinic Kroger was sponsoring at Ohio State’s basketball arena. The link did not appear to be on the regular website — at least, in any obvious way — but there it was on my phone. I clicked. This was the day after DeWine’s announcement, and most websites still hadn’t lowered the age threshold, making it impossible for me to register. But I typed in my birthdate and a list of times popped up. I picked one. My husband picked the same. We looked at each other in shock. Our appointments were scheduled the first date the state allowed.

I got my first Covid shot in the corridor of a basketball arena at the very same time the Buckeyes were losing to Oral Roberts University in the first round of March Madness. I don’t follow basketball, so I didn’t know that until someone told me later. I do know that March Madness is a fitting term for what the entire past year has been. Sleepless nights. Panic that sits like a brick in your chest every time you cough. Relationships reduced to digital dates, or vanished altogether. Calculating the risk/benefit analysis of every store you enter, every hello you utter to strangers on the street. Fifty three weeks had passed since I went to work for the last time, since my son had been to school. Over a year of uncertainty. I told the nurse with the needle that she was a rock star just before she gave me the shot.

I got my Covid vaccine on the last day of the longest winter of my life. That night, at 2:37 AM, spring arrived. My arm ached, but I didn’t mind.

I spent the weekend in the sun.

Columbus-based writer, educator, and mom.