In late January, data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Missouri was ranked dead last among all states in terms of vaccination rates, prompting residents to get creative to secure their shots. Those in the major metropolitan areas, especially, have begun traveling to rural communities that are flush with vaccines, while some of those same communities have opened up eligibility to ensure their shots don't go to waste. For this week's cover story, two RFT writers tried their hands at getting vaccinated and reported back. For the other story in this package, click here.
When I got the email confirming my appointment to receive the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, I damn near threw my laptop across the room as if it were on fire.
I had just over an hour to get from my home in St. Louis County to the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds mass vaccination site in Belleville, Illinois, and I was feeling the pressure. In a half-panic, I frantically gathered up all the things I would need. Keys! Photo ID! Phone charger! Oh shit, it's freezing outside — jacket! It's a small miracle I remembered to put pants on in the mad scramble.
My hands were trembling with excitement as I prepared to leave, so much so that I had to have my fiancée enter the address to the site on my phone's GPS for me. When I got outside to my car I determined that there simply wasn't enough time to properly scrape all of the ice from my windshield, so I used my bare hands to claw away just enough to see what was in front of me, relying on the heater's defrost setting to do the rest. Within minutes, I was Illinois-bound, racing down I-70 while peering through a half-frosted windshield and frantically calling my family and friends in the hopes they would luck out in the same wholly unlikely way I had.
It was February 12, and I had been wrapping up work near the tail end of an otherwise uneventful Friday when I noticed something intriguing in the back-end of the RFT's blogging platform: One of our new interns this semester, Jack Killeen, was working on a story with the temporary headline "Getting vaccinated (title work in progress)."
"What's all this, then?" I wondered. Jack, I know, is a younger fella, much younger than I. So how was he getting a vaccine? Being that I am unashamedly nosey (what kind of reporter would I be if I weren't?) I clicked on the half-written post and started reading.
Jack's prose spoke of vaccine chasers whose attempts to get needles into their arms were often centered around finding vials that were set to expire or otherwise go to waste. He wrote about an event in Belleville that he'd heard had opened to the public at large after being unable to find enough willing recipients. "The Belleville Fairgrounds are doing a drive thru covid vaccine event tomorrow-this weekend and need people to sign up so the vaccines don't go to waste," he'd been told in a text message by a family member, who shared a link and a registration code — both of which I was now staring at in the post (See the finished story).
It was as though I'd stumbled upon a secret trove of forbidden knowledge. In disbelief, I copied and pasted the URL into my browser's search bar and pressed enter. When prompted, I typed in the registration code and was shocked when it worked, allowing me access to a site that asked for my personal information.
I answered each question honestly — I live in Missouri, I'm in my 30s, I'm not a health-care worker, I'm fat but not quite fat enough for it to be dubbed a comorbidity, etc. — and clicked to schedule an appointment for the following afternoon. The computer told me the slot I'd attempted to sign up for was now taken, and in fact, every Saturday slot was gone. I tried the same for Sunday and saw the same outcome — though these appointments were available when I initially selected them, by the time I submitted the form I was told they were filled. It seemed to me that there must be a lot of people vying for spots at the moment for the situation to be this fluid.
I shrugged and tried for a Friday slot, figuring all those, for sure, must be filled up. But to my shock, one went through. The site directed me to check my email for a QR code to bring to the fairgrounds, and when I saw that I'd received one my eyes popped out of my head as though I were a Looney Tunes character noticing a fellow Looney Tunes character's sexy drag outfit. I promptly sent the scheduler link and verification code to my mom, and then called her immediately and told her to check her email. I sent the link to several friends in a group text as well, hoping as many of the people I care about as possible would be able to get in.
One friend I spoke with as I raced to the site said he'd been tipped off to this situation earlier in the day, but had no luck when he'd tried to secure an appointment. The only reason I'd gotten one, we agreed, is that someone must have canceled theirs. I couldn't imagine why anyone would do that, but I was grateful.
"Keep trying," I told my mom urgently over the phone. "Even if it looks like all the slots are full, somebody might cancel."