On Friday, about a year to the day after the World Health Organization officially upgraded the Covid-19 “disease” to a worldwide pandemic, the Mexican government’s vaccination campaign rolled into San Miguel to an expectant and excited popular reception you’d expect for the arrival of the circus. The local Mexican media was abuzz and flyers went up in the small towns surrounding San Miguel, while the internet sites that function as news media among expats also were busy posing questions, answers, advice and speculation, most of it accurate.
|Waiting for the vaccination, Mexican style,
including a stray dog looking for handouts.
The excitement created by the arrival of the vaccine, here and in the U.S., was understandable, after months of the public getting pummeled daily with could-this-get-any-worse? news about the pandemic.
A couple of days before the campaign, our gardener Félix also brought us a bit of unsettling news about a Covid infection in his family. He showed up one morning with a big facemask and announced that his brother-in-law, who had been helping build a bathroom (Félix’s home doesn’t have indoor plumbing or sanitary facilities) reported flu-like symptoms (the dreaded Mexican gripa?) plus an odd loss of the sense of smell.
I said that sounded like Covid, but Félix, 34, thought he need not worry, because the virus could not affect someone as young as him. I explained that wasn’t true, and that if he became infected, he could pass it on to his elderly parents or Stew and me, who would not be nearly as resilient. I offered to take his parents to the vaccination campaign but Félix said they were not interested. His elderly parents seem to share a phobia about hospitals, doctors, needles, vaccines and other modern medical interventions.
The Mexican government’s vaccination campaign had brushed past San Miguel a couple times, touching down in some nearby towns like Celaya and Comonfort, but cancelling its arrival at the last minute. Final confirmation came barely 36-hours before the ten vaccination sites were to open, and given the short notice and complexity of the operation—the Pfizer vaccines administered here came from God-knows-where and have to be kept in a deep freeze until administered—the public turnout was impressive, and the execution by the campaign coordinators as smooth as a finely choreographed ballet.
|To get your vaccine, you bring a rebozo, a blanket and a face mask,
commandeer a nearby rock—and then just sit and wait for your turn.
As it befits card-carrying neurotics, Stew and I didn’t want to take any chances and arrived at the vaccination site, located about 20 minutes from the ranch, on Friday, more than an hour before the opening bell of 8 a.m.
Even then, there were about 200 people already lined up and cars parked on both shoulders of the access road. By the time we left, about five hours later, the crowd seemed to have tripled or quadrupled, and tamale vendors and taco trailers had shown up and were doing brisk business. The only thing missing were roving musicians singing for coins. The scene looked like a local interpretation of “herd immunity.”
Some friends who were vaccinated at other sites reported shorter waits.
Calmly waiting in line, sometimes for hours and for even the most mundane transactions, seems to be a trait built into the Mexican DNA. Waiting is part of life. I’ve wondered if anyone ever calculated the cost to Mexico’s economy of so many of its citizens just waiting around every day for something to happen.
|Virus-proof: This man wore a wool jacket, a hoodie,
a face mask plus a plastic face shield, topped by a
precariously perched sombrero.
At the campaigns to spay-and-neuter pets where we Stew and I used to volunteer, many owners showed up with their animals at the break of dawn and waited for as long as five or six hours before the hapless animals recovered from surgery. The only signs of impatience were an occasional puddle or pile by a skittish patient.
Likewise, when we first moved to the ranch I attended Mass at a tiny church nearby, where the priest listened to confession outside, sitting on a folding chair under a tree, and sinners waited for as long as an hour for their chance to unburden their souls. I wondered if some sinners decided their transgressions weren’t worth the wait and just went home un-absolved.
Waiting is not so bad if you come prepared, and accordingly, many of the people waiting in line at the vaccination station brought chairs, bags of food, radios and warm weather gear of kinds.
As it turned out, once the doors opened, the line moved rather quickly and by 9:30 we were waiting for the registration and other paperwork inside an impressive fieldhouse. Equanimity and even good humor continued to reign, except for occasional squabbles about someone trying to cut in line. After the shot—an anticlimactic three-second poke—a couple of young, pony-tailed doctors directed us to a recovery room, where we were offered granola bars, bottled water and more paperwork. An Red Cross ambulance parked by the door didn’t seem to have any customers.
So our wait for the vaccine ended without us having to go back the U.S. as many of our friends had. However, the rigmarole of masks, social distancing, disinfectant gels an other precautions must continue, warned a brochure we received after the vaccination, probably for three weeks or more after the second shot, four or five weeks from now.
While the pandemic is hardly over, declining infection and fatality statistics are declining in most places, and, having received the first vaccine, is helping us feel not quite as stressed out.