My wife and I have believed in the vaccine since day one. As some may know, we have moved to Michigan and have a condo in south Florida. Since I am over 75, I am in line for the second level of vaccines, just after health care workers and emergency personnel.
We live in a county that just borders a city much like the size of Kankakee. A month ago, Michigan got its first round of vaccines at hospitals and county health facilities. My wife signed us up immediately and we waited for an email. I got one for January 14 at the local health center while my wife got hers at a hospital. We were excited and would wait until we got round one before making a sojourn to the south.
It didn’t quite happen that way. Two days before my shot, I got an email that it was cancelled as I did not live in the county of the health center. That is true by 6 miles. My wife’s was not cancelled and she received her Moderna vaccination on the next day. Go figure.
Since all the plans were in place for Florida, we left as scheduled believing that I could get my first shot sometime soon in Florida. We immediately registered at the county site. To no avail. No return calls. No available vaccination openings.
Florida (the governor) decided that the best place to distribute the vaccines was through a chain of pharmacies called Publix. Not Walgreens nor CVS. Later it came out that the heiress of the Publix Company had made a half million dollar donation to the governor’s campaign. Fancy that.
I stayed on the lists for Michigan, but nothing happened. We qualified also for the shots in Florida as we owned the condo and had utility bills in our names. There was a movement by many non-residents to visit and get shots, so the rule was changed to “no vacation vaccinations.” I still qualified.
You could get an appointment by logging into the Publix web site for the entire state and wait your turn to enter the assignment portion. Each county was listed with the number of appointments available at that time. These sign-in times came twice a week. But the number of slots was far below the demand.
Skip forward to today. On the front page of USA Today’s Nation’s Health section is an article about a couple who travelled 2,400 miles round trip to become fully vaccinated. They went from Lake Worth Beach in Southeast Florida to the Florida Panhandle, the westernmost part of the state, 600 miles each way. It sounded like this was insane to those who read the article. But let me say, it is far from insane but almost normal for Florida. The land of the aged.
Back to our saga. My wife and I both got on the Publix site three weeks ago. We logged in right at 6 a.m. The site acknowledged us being in the “queue,” and we waited. Each minute the site refreshed and you could look to see how many shots were still available in each county in Florida. Our county, Lee, had 2,200 to start while Miami areas had 4,500. Smaller counties had far less. We stayed logged on. Within 40 minutes, our county and every surrounding county was depleted, and we still were not even it the recognized assignment to pick a pharmacy.
This went on each Wednesday and Friday for the next three weeks. Our friends, two of whom were older, had not gotten in either. So we pooled resources. Five of us were on nine devices each morning by 6 a.m. On Wednesday, February 3, we were once again failing. Our local counties were done when one of the friends who is not yet 65 called on our phone and said “I’m in!” It was close to 7 by then. Then he related the bad news. The only site left was in Pensacola, also in the Panhandle and only a few miles from Alabama.
“Do you want it?” he asked. I knew it would be a long way but with a month between shots and probably a two-week waiting period after that second shot before we would dare to travel. I said yes and was booked in. One of our other participating friends who was above 65 could also sign in with me, but he declined.
I quickly looked up the mileage to Pensacola. 488 miles! The shot was on Thursday, the next day. We awoke early that morning, jumped in the car and put the location into the GPS. There it was, staring at us, not 488, but 588 miles. Oops. We recalculated and decided that with a straight shot, no lunch and only potty breaks we could still make it if traffic behaved. Then we realized that Pensacola was in the Central Time Zone, and we had an extra hour since we were on Eastern Time in the rest of Florida.
The drive went well. Traffic was acceptable and we arrived at the pharmacy two hours early. We told them where we had come from and showed our documentation. Unlike southern Florida, the place was relatively empty. I got my shot two hours early, and we decided to make the drive back rather than motel it somewhere along the way.
The return drive was even better. Classic Interstate 75 with its horrendous traffic in tourist season was light, and we were home by 1 a.m. The pandemic does have a couple of advantages.
So we didn’t make the front page of the USA Today. I guess we made the shorter drive and lost by 12 miles each way, but I have my first and a definite date for my second. Maybe we will stay the night and see what Pensacola and its waterfront looks like for an extra day. But either way, I have no regrets and am glad we made the effort. By the way, we still haven’t heard from Michigan or the county registration in Florida.