By Liz Joslin || Contributing Writer
I have worked at the CVS in my hometown of Havertown, Pennsylvania since the Fall of 2018. When my school district closed due to COVID-19 on March 13th, 2020, I told my boss that I would work as much as he needed me to, and I became a full-time employee for what ended up being the next five months until I came to F&M.
Little did I know what those five months would bring…
Working at CVS every day during the first few months of the pandemic was absolutely indescribable. I saw it all: hand sanitizer and soap wiped from the shelves, fights over toilet paper, individuals refusing to wear masks, and even a customer in a full hazmat suit… paired with flip flops. Multiple customers would refuse to wear masks, elderly men coughed in my face, and Karens went ballistic when they were told we were not accepting returns. While my immediate management did all in their power to keep me and my coworkers safe, corporate CVS was slow to the roll. For a while, I kind of expected I would get COVID at work eventually.
Over the summer, news broke about a deal that CVS had made with the CDC to buy and administer millions of vaccines at stores once they were made available. Employees were sent an email outlining the corporation’s commitment to vaccinating all employees once vaccine reserves arrived. While this was exciting, I knew it was months away.
Sure enough, upon returning home from F&M at Thanksgiving, in-store vaccine planning had already begun. By January, stores in my district were running clinics for healthcare workers and nursing home patients. Within weeks, my store’s Pharmacist had received her first dose, and the plans for employee vaccination became a reality. At the end of every clinic, there were multiple doses left over from individuals that had missed their appointments, and because the vaccine expires just six hours after dilution, the store employees were pulled to be given the extra doses.
This is how I expected to receive my first dose. However, my experience was not as conventional as it normally would be. A local vaccine depot CVS had 60 doses left over at the end of their Saturday clinic. Because our store’s pharmacy stayed open later than others on the weekends, they made the snap decision to send all leftover doses to our store, with only a few hours’ notice. All employees in the region were notified of the available doses and promptly showed up at our doorstep in order to secure a spot.
In a matter of an afternoon, I went from stocking makeup products to facilitating a COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. I handed out forms, ran insurance information through our system, and directed employees to our basement, which we turned into a waiting area. The vials which were scheduled to show up at 5:00 PM ended up arriving at 7:30 PM. In between, over 50 CVS employees from different stores sat in our basement, eating pizza and telling stories, all waiting to finally get the vaccine we had been anticipating since March. I watched in awe as my store pharmacist meticulously diluted each dose of the vaccine and prepared the needles.
And so, on January 16th around 7:45 at night, I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. My coworkers and I each got our shots within minutes of each other, and we waited out our 15 minute reaction time together in our store’s stock-room. Because many of us needed to work the next day, we shared our worries about symptoms and excitement for our second doses just three weeks away. As far as symptoms went, none of us experienced anything other than a sore arm for a few days.
The second dose was a different story. The vaccine distribution that had occurred at our store on January 16th was frankly disorganized, chaotic, and bizarre. Corporate CVS realized that this was not the safest way to distribute vaccines to employees, so they mandated that vaccine doses must only be given out at designated stores. This time, I was given a scheduled appointment time for 11:00 AM on February 6th and received my second dose in the wellness center at a store just 20 minutes from mine. The process was smooth and organized, and for the first 12 hours afterward, I felt completely fine. But as I was going to sleep that night, things definitely changed. The next day, I suffered from the worst body aches I have ever experienced, and most of my coworkers had pounding headaches. Many of us ran a slight fever for a few hours, and the arm pain was excruciating. The three of us scheduled to work the next morning struggled to move around the store and barely got anything done. But, by the next day, we were all back to normal.
As terrible as I felt for that one day, it was completely worth it. Although it has been said that Moderna recipients experience more symptoms, I would still have willingly taken the Moderna vaccine. All versions of the vaccine achieve the same goal. While we just reached over 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, no one has died from the vaccine. To reach the other side of this pandemic, over 80% of the population must get vaccinated. There is simply no other way. I am so grateful to have had an early opportunity to get my vaccine and I would encourage anyone eligible to also do so.
I got the vaccine because I believe in science. I did my part as an essential worker, and I am doing my part to keep my community safe. When I got my second dose, I couldn’t help but reflect on everything that we lost due to COVID. While the past year has been terrifying, the vaccine is nothing to fear. Finally, my coworkers and I can feel safe at work. Finally, I no longer have to play the “is it COVID or is it just allergies” game. Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
First-year Liz Joslin is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.