I got my first shot on Wednesday in Oaxaca. The ordeal was compounded by sketchy information, very long lines and changing priorities, but things finally worked out for me. This is Mexico, after all, a country driven by its ability to survive chaos. People here have the patience and cooperation to wait hours in lines hundreds long. Fights would break out elsewhere.
Local newspapers reported early in the week that some 30,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were coming to the city. These were to be distributed on three days to 11 sites—police stations, courts, a church plaza, schools, and one clinic. The Centro de Salud clinic was in my neighborhood, about a mile away, and that’s where I went.
Some people got this notice online without further explanation. Others got it with two forms attached. More learned about the distribution from neighbors, newspapers, and word of mouth. Smoke signals may have played a part. Nobody seemed to have figured out how 30,000 doses could be adequately and fairly distributed in a city of 300,000.
The idea was to limit the vaccine to 60+-year-olds, and even that would be a stretch. I went to my local doc to see if he and his hospital had any access to the vaccine. My organs definitely could not accommodate standing in line for hours at my age. “No,” he said, “our private hospitals and staff don’t get it. AMLO hates private hospitals.”
I was thinking I’d have to go to the U.S. to get the stuff, as two of my friends had just done. One had checked out the lines and disorganization on Tuesday and called it a clusterfuck. Oaxaca’s governor called it a disaster. I contemplated the joys of testing, traveling, and going through four airports. Besides, I had given up my Medicare and had no permanent U.S. address.
On Tuesday, first day of the distribution, those in charge were confronted with immense lines of people going at least four blocks down from the clinic. The operators wrote out numbers on scraps of paper and handed these to the many people on line. My friends Bryan and wife Elizabeth got one. They had decided to get a number and ask the folks in line (mostly younger people reserving a place for their elders) to hold their spot while they went home and slept. This turned out to be a fairly common practice.
The next day, Wednesday, they returned early to find their place in line had moved up quite a bit. Bryan called me after he had gotten his shot and said he would go back in line and hold me a place. I thanked him profusely, swallowed my qualms and found him holding my place (with a chair, even). No numbers were given out, and the line, with maybe 50 folks in front of me, moved me to the front in about an hour. An official with a bullhorn told us that there were only 300 doses left and there would be no more coming.
The staff inside the clinic, mostly younger women, were helpful. They checked all our paperwork, wrote and stapled documents, then sent us inside to get the shots. Per the normal in Mexico, there were people to guide one through the maze and clarify things. Through their efforts—clumsy as they may have been with numbers, then no numbers, changing procedures and lack of supply—they got most of us in, though I don’t know how many were left in the long line remaining.
I guess my surprise in all this was that the crazy, beleaguered system worked for me. Even the preferential treatment I got through the efforts of my friend was accepted by all as part of the game. This is Mexico, after all.