Arvada vaccinations

This was the line at the Arvada Fire Protection District for to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or to leave if they're denied.

I do my best to report stories through the eyes of others. Sometimes, when I'm lucky, I get to see them with my own.

I suppose it's not news at this point that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been a confusing, chaotic work in progress. 

The one unbendable fact is that federal, state and county governments had a full year with weekends off to come up with a clear and equitable rollout, with logical contingency plans. 

In the Super Bowl of crises, it seems, the government is drawing up plays in the dirt.

Here's my experience at the Arvada Fire Protection District Training Center.

Joey Bunch: "The hero, in my book, is the common man, woman and non-binary individual who faced down the plague and panic and fought back with a broom. They are the truck drivers, the GrubHub deliverers, the grocery clerks, the fry cooks and especially the doctors and nurses."

I asked if I was in the line of cars I was supposed to be in. “Do you have a confirmation email?” the person directing traffic replied. “Yes,” I said, holding up my phone. “Then that’s the right line.”

The beginning to the end of my year of living nervously was in sight. When the person checking driver’s licenses approached my window, I considered giving him a hug.

He saw I was younger than 65 and said it wasn't my turn; I'd have to leave and reschedule. I didn’t want to hug him anymore.

I explained I’m a journalist, and journalists have been getting vaccinated for weeks, 58 years old with enough comorbidities for a small sickly village. I gave the health department all that information, when it booked he appointment, I told him. He fetched Max, the site manager.

Max appeared to be in his 20s. He wore a ball cap and carried a clipboard. He didn’t need to see my confirmation email, he said. It was wrong, he said, without explaining why or whether my case was unusual. 

The confirmation says service can be denied at the site, he said. It doesn’t.

I asked if there was someone I could appeal this to. Max said he was in charge. “Call Jefferson County,” he relented when I asked for the third time.

I'm not mad at Max. I pity him. He's dealing with a mishmash of rules, orders, levels, phases, sub-phases with decimal points and, according to Max, mistakes made by his health department coworkers. There's a higher price for that. The next weekend I heard an NPR report about rollout stumbles nationally. An official in Miami said operating sites smoothly is critical to giving the public confidence in the process and encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Gov. Jared Polis has provided bright lines of clarity that amount to a fuzzy notion. 

Restaurant workers were told they would get shots starting March 5. A few days before, Polis said forget that. It's March 21 now. Got it?

“It might change a day or two based on exact supply,” he said, adding “around March 21 we will be expanding to anyone age 50 and up,” asterisk implied. 

Confusion will not speed vaccinations or inspire confidence that the government can do this efficiently or safely. It's the government that put Max in charge of my health care in a parking lot. Max seems qualified to carry a clipboard, but that's as far as I would go.

I pulled away cursing under and over my breath, terrible, terrible words I'm not practiced at saying.

I was trapped in the line of vehicles that snaked around the fire station to leave when Max and a firefighter came to my window on the other side of the building. I don't know why, except to continue the bickering. 

The firefighter warned me to drive out “slowly” and not to “hit my fence,”  or “we’re going to have problems,” meaning, well, you figure it out.

I wish I had thought fast enough to ask, “Sir, why do you think I'm going to hit your fence?" to hear the answer.

I asked Officer Friendly the more obvious question: “Why are you even here?”

“I don’t like the way you’re driving,” he said. I was in a line of cars creeping forward every few minutes, so that made less sense than hitting his fence.

I report on the government every day. Max and Fire Marshall Bill are not the government.

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They are symptoms of the government. Max didn't have what he needed: information, compassion, cooperation or communication skills. They weren't on his clipboard, and the government is clipboard-based.

If you assume they logically line up doses based on the number of appointments that day, it means my dose was left over to toss out or give to someone without an appointment. At least I had an appointment. That's the government.

Who among us doesn’t know someone vaccinated out of turn, because they're the friend of a friend? I know four — five, if you count the first gentleman.

I took Max’s advice and called Jefferson County. I was directed to the voicemail of Kelly Conroy, the associate director of clinical services for the health department. I left a message explaining what had happened. She never called back.

A month earlier, she and her boss, Mark Johnson, told 9News the goal was to vaccinate as many people as fast as possible. Conroy said she understood how frustrating it is to wait on this life-saving drug after a year of isolation and worry.

“We have so much empathy and compassion,” she said on TV.

The government always does.

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