Like many Ann Arborites, I was frustrated this winter in securing an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine. I had no luck with Michigan Medicine or St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, never heard back from Meijer, and I couldn’t nab a time at a local pharmacy.
But in early March, I obtained a vaccine appointment through the Washtenaw County Health Department. I was directed to show up at the EMU Convocation Center, where the health department operates a vast clinic (another has since been set up in Chelsea).
Here’s how my experience went.
Appointment: I was assigned an 11:05 am time slot and told to arrive three minutes in advance. Since I’m a prompt person, I showed up 15 minutes early, only to find a line forming outside the center’s south door.
A volunteer who was directing traffic sent me back to my car to wait. I wasn’t alone. All around me, patients were arriving 30 minutes, even an hour sooner than their times.
There is no need to arrive early, and the clinic does not accept walk-ins. If you don’t have an appointment, you will not be allowed in line.
The first line: At 11:05 am, I got back in line, with about a dozen people ahead of me. Soon, more people piled up behind me, with our volunteer arranging us by appointment time. It took about 10 minutes to get inside the door.
The second line: Inside the door, the line splits in two directions. The left side is for people who need assistance, such as wheelchair users or those with walkers. I went to the right, lining up to check in and get paperwork.
Across the arena: Here’s where you realize that there will be a lot of walking involved. Patients travel across the mezzanine of the arena to a hallway on the other side (the EMU Women’s Basketball team was practicing on the floor, which was fun to watch while we waited).
Fill out your form: In the second hallway, chairs are set up in a socially distant fashion so that you can sit down and fill out your paperwork. You answer a series of health questions, such as whether you are displaying any symptoms.
You sign the form, and signal to a staff member that you’re ready. You are sent to a second check-in desk, and cleared to proceed.
Watch the video: Big screen monitors are set up with an informative video about the vaccine. Once you’re finished, you head down the corridor to be dispatched to a vaccine station. Along the way, you may pass uniformed members of the Michigan National Guard.
Getting your shot: I counted about a dozen vaccine stations along the front corridor outside the arena. Mine was staffed by a nurse from the St. Joe’s system. The shot itself is like any other flu shot or vaccine: it goes into the top part of your arm, and stings for a second, but it isn’t otherwise painful.
Information: After your shot, you receive several pages of information about possible side effects, and a piece of paper with a QC code that you aim at with your smartphone so that you can make your second appointment.
Since I received a Pfizer shot, my appointment was scheduled for three weeks later. For this shot, you can choose a different time than the one you were originally assigned.
The last stop: Finally, you wind up in a large waiting area outside the arena, with socially distanced seats for about 100 people. You’re advised to wait 15 minutes, in case you have an adverse reaction.
It was the largest crowd I’d been in since the pandemic began, and even though we’d all been vaccinated, I felt some anxiety at being in a group that big. But there is a booth staffed by EMS technicians, in case anyone falls ill (an ambulance is parked outside).
I was discouraged from taking a selfie during my shot, but the waiting area has a selfie spot, where you can pose to capture the moment for your social media accounts. It’s a festive atmosphere, with people laughing, and presumably smiling under their masks.
Just like at a polling place, you can pick up a sticker. This one reads, “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!” and “Protect yourself, protect others.” My fifteen minutes over, I walked back to my car.
Side effects: I felt just fine on the day of my shot. Fatigue set in the day afterwards. I’m normally not a nap taker, but I needed a two-hour lie down to get my energy back. I’m told that people feel even more tired after shot number two, so I am factoring that into my schedule.
Conclusion: dress according to the weather for your outside wait. Wear comfortable shoes (my counter showed that I covered about 1,200 steps). If you can’t stand or walk, ask to use the assistance line. Plan on spending about an hour, start to finish, including the 15 minutes of post-shot waiting.