State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

My Experience Getting the COVID-19 Shot

I’ve been vaccinated! L’chiam!!!

Word came last Wednesday that Columbia University’s faculty and staff in eligible categories — like being OLD — could get you a shot today. TODAY!

claudia dreifus holds a sign saying "I got vaccinated for Patti"
Claudia Dreifus is a contributor to the New York Review of Books and a professor at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.

I ran to the Washington Heights campus from Lincoln Center, where I live. Or rather, took a $35.00 taxi.

Everything was so beautifully organized. There was staff to keep you six feet away from the next person, people to help you fill out forms, nurses in a separate area to give you what turned out to be the Pfizer vaccine.

I wore an N95 mask, a real one that I had saved for this moment. A Facebook friend sent it to me as a gift months ago. I put it away for this specific purpose because I knew that at some point, to get immunized, I was going to find myself in a room with more people than I’d congregated with in ten full months.

The young woman with the needle was, in normal times, a cardiac surgical nurse. She said she was loving this assignment. People were awake and happy.

I was in tears the whole time. I could hardly hold the consent form and the pen, and my eye glasses kept fogging. I kept thinking about Patti Bosworth and her partner, Douglas; my husband’s brother-in-law, Bill; Eloy, the handyman in my building; Judy Richeimer, a neighbor from the time I lived in Chelsea, and journalist Alan Finder — people in my orbit, all early victims of this scourge.

With this inoculation, I was getting a passport to Life! This was a literal reprieve from a stupid and meaningless death.

I have things to do, stuff to say, stories to write, students to teach. Now, I’ll probably get to do them. I can think about trips to somewhere other than the supermarket. Maybe later in the year, I’ll go to New Orleans, to Mexico, to South Africa for my work. Till this vaccination, travel was one of many uncertainties. One couldn’t even think about it. Or even living through the year. Every day was Russian Roulette.

Patti Bosworth, a close friend since the 1960s, took her laptop to Roosevelt Hospital last spring because she had so much to do and couldn’t spare the time for illness. Of course, Patti didn’t leave alive. The staff there was wonderful and did everything to save her. They couldn’t.

“Do you mind if I take a selfie?” I asked the nurse after the injection. She handed me a placard to photograph that read, “I GOT VACCINATED FOR…” Did I want to remember anyone in particular?

“Patti, Patti,” I wept — and with a shaking hand, I wrote her name.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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