The day finally got here! It’s been a process and a waiting game, and I can hardly believe we got our shots.
Panama has done the vaccination process in a very systematic way starting with the people most in need, and going from province to province depending on where the most cases have been.
We are in phase 2, people over 60 and people with chronic health problems. They have also added teachers (they want to get the kids back to school soon), and pregnant women (with doctor’s OK).
They started vaccinations in Panama and Panama West (Panama City area). This started in early March, which made us very excited, but it’s taken all this time to get to Chiriqui. We are in district 4-1 (David) and they are also vaccinating in district 4-2 (Puerta Armuelles area). Unfortunately Panama hasn’t gotten the supplies they expected. It’s frustrating because they have certainly done their part to be ready to vaccinate large numbers of people, but without the vaccine the virus continues to spread, sicken, and kill. In the graphic above, desfunciones means deaths. This is the number they have used to prioritize provinces and districts.
(an aside – Panama has been giving Pfizer vaccines. Recently, they got some AstraZeneca but that’s a different thing, different sign up and different clinics, and it’s available for men over 30 and women over 50. But otherwise, the main vaccination efforts are all Pfizer. There has been talk that they are negotiating for a couple other brands but nothing has happened yet)
But, our time finally came! Months ago we were told to go to the government website and sign up for vaccines. And then… we waited…. and waited…. Then, a few weeks ago we heard about a David website so we signed up there too, and waited some more until news came around that May 10th was the day to check for appointments. I was anxious and up early, logged on to the website, and there it was, my appointment! Mine was on Sunday afternoon, and Joel had one too on Saturday afternoon in a different location.
That was Monday, and the appointments were in the system as promised. Then, Tuesday the vaccines arrived in Chriqui. Wednesday was preparation day for all the locations and staff (I saw news that 1000+ people came from Panama City area who had worked in the clinics there. They came to work in our clinics). Thursday my neighbors started getting their vaccines. Friday I got a phone call, I think from the local David offices because we’d signed up on that other website. A very nice women had to repeat things (she just couldn’t slow down!) but I finally understood that she was calling to be sure we had appointments if we wanted them, and she told me I could just go with Joel on Saturday.
Then, Saturday morning I stopped by to see a friend and was told there that we should probably go much earlier than our 4pm appointment because there were rumors they closed down the lines at 4pm. So, we went about 1:30, figuring the worst that could happen would be we would have to wait for our appointed time. I gathered up our rental agreement to prove that we do indeed live in this district, and an electric bill (another method of verifying our location), and our cedulas (ID cards), and passports just in case, and I had a print out of my appointment, and Joel’s appointment was saved in both of our phones, and the location was saved in my google maps. I did NOT want any problems! Little did we know how easy it was going to be…
Somehow I ended up in a WhatsApp group of people working at the clinics, maybe because I considered volunteering? They were up and getting ready at 5:30 am! By 7am everything was in order (photo below), and by 8 am people were waiting for their vaccines. (these are photos that were shared in the group)
I think we arrived at the designated school about 1:45. There were quite a few cars out front, and more around the back where we were told to go to start the process.
We had our temperatures taken, alcohol squirted on our hands, and we were directed to the outdoor gym area to sit in chairs. I think there were only two other people there waiting. Joel is smiling under his mask in the first picture, and it was only a few minutes before we were called to the table in the next picture. There they asked for our cedulas (ID’s) and phone numbers so they could fill out our vaccination cards.
From there, we were sent to sit in the next line of chairs that you can see in the distance of the second picture above. We found out that we were waiting to be sent to one of a number of vaccinations stations. So, below in the first picture is the line of chairs, and the chairs in front of one of the vaccination rooms are in the second picture. That’s where I ended up next.
Again, it was barely a couple minutes before we (in a group of 6) were moved to the chairs in front of the vaccination room. The nurses there asked for our cedulas and vaccination cards to make entries in their logs, which we were asked to sign. Below are a couple photos I took while we were waiting in this area. The first is another vaccination room with staff at the table, and chairs for clients to wait. The second picture is towards the entrance. I saw that anyone who looked like they had trouble walking or waiting was immediately taken to a chair in front of the closest vaccination room.
Our longest wait was in front of the vaccination room, maybe 5 minutes. Then we were ushered into the vaccination room. We were asked if we were all over 60, our cedulas and vaccination cards were gathered again and info was written on another log. And then, one of the two staff members gave us our shots! We were instructed that our next shot would be in 30 days, and after that we need to wait 15 days before we get a flu shot.
Oh happy day!! It was true. It really happened. We got our shots. They gave us back our cards and cedulas and waited a few minutes, and then we were ushered into another room where we had to wait for 15 minutes to be sure we didn’t have any bad reaction. We were also instructed about possible side effects and how to treat them, when to seek medical help, and who to contact for any questions or concerns.
And then we were finished! I think we got lucky and came in at a slow time, and the whole process took less than an hour. I was impressed by how organized they were. Social distancing was maintained at all times and masks were worn by everyone (including the medical staff who were vaccinated a couple months ago in phase 1). There were people at every step to direct you to your next place. Nobody seemed rushed or stressed, and everything just flowed along smoothly. I felt like we were cared for very well, and we were given all the information we needed to know.
I know that we will be getting the second shot in one month, and two weeks after that we will have the highest level of immunity. But even one dose provides a significant amount of immunity, and it sure puts my head in a better place. As I said in my last post, we are having problems in Chirqui and curfews are back. Even with all the biosecurity measures that are second nature to us by now, the virus is still infecting people. I’m very happy that we, and all the more vulnerable people in our city will have a higher level of protection. There was a time when I considered going back to the US, but until recently it was very difficult to get an appointment. And, there were the dangers of travel, and then what? Quarantine somewhere away from my family? This took a bit longer but we felt safe and comfortable while we waited, and it all worked out very well.
THANK YOU Panama for taking such good care of us! Add this to the very long list of reasons for why we are thankful to be here.
I hope you all are safe too, and taking good care of yourselves and each other.