Maura at keem bay jpg

Searching for hottest commodity

The Stantons are Emma, Paul, Baby Eleanor and Teddy the dog.

By Maura Mulligan

Will I be able to celebrate a significant birthday in Ireland this summer? Will I take the scenic walk along the winding road from Dooagh to Keem Bay? Will I join friends for a céilí in Clare? Now with a third vaccine on the way, how soon we all be vaccinated?

President Biden recently predicted that any adult who wants the Covid vaccine would be able to get it within 60 to 90 days. His plan to include the country’s largest lobbying groups such as Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers should help make this happen. I believe that the fact it hasn’t happened already is a reflection of the Trump administration and is the reason why up to now people have had such difficulty getting appointments for the vaccine in the first place.

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“Approximate wait time is 8,313 minutes,” the voice on the vaccination “hotline” announced. A short time later, it was 6,355 minutes. I was never good with numbers but figured out that if I were to continue holding, I’d be waiting for about five days before someone answered my call to make an appointment for the vaccine shot. After waiting for five minutes, I opted for the choice of leaving my number for a call back. The other possibility was to “try later.” Neither of these options proved successful. My cousin who works in a hospital told me to keep trying as she understood this to be a special sign-up # for family members of people who worked in that hospital. A day later, a recording announced that this was “not a working number.”

When I successfully navigated the online registration with the NJ Health Department, I signed up with several vaccine sites. Whenever I searched these sites for updates, they were “fully booked” all over Hudson County and beyond. I walked to one of the local sites in West New York only to find it closed. A local librarian gave me a form to fill out and said that the Mayor had plans to gather the seniors and bus us to a vaccination site. I filled out the form and brought it to the Town Hall but have heard nothing yet about the bus plan.

In the meantime, I tried for an appointment in New York City, where I’d spent most of my teaching life. With the exception of Walgreens who offered to call me back if there was a cancelation, I had no luck with Big Apple sites because they were focused on New York residents.

I became jealous of people posting photos of themselves on Facebook displaying proof of their 1st and in some cases, their 2nd shot. From watching news reports I knew too that I wasn’t the only one plagued by the “fully booked” sites. People were getting out of bed in the middle of the night and going online in an attempt to grab a spot on a waiting list. When my friend Peggy in New York filled out an online sign-up form and reached the last entry, the button refused to click. She had the date and time for an appointment but the form refused to go through. She went to the site anyway. She did have to deal with questions about the incomplete form but she helped them understand where the blame lay and managed to get the vaccination, albeit after shedding a few tears. Pat, one of my Irish language students on Zoom told us that she drove over 90 miles to a site in Minnesota where she lives, only to be told they’d run out of the vaccine.

The disappointment, deprivation and loss has taken a toll on the human psyche this past year but it forced us to become more aware and appreciative of the goodness and kindness of others. A young Irish couple, Emma (Donegal) and her husband Paul Stanton (Cork) live in the neighboring town of Weehawken. Emma joined my outdoor dance class in the Donnelly Park back in October 2020 when she was looking for exercise. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, when they delivered dinner to my door, their kindness felt like an invitation to join them albeit in separate households. And when their beautiful daughter Eleanor was born the day Joe Biden became president, they sent pictures – a reminder to me that there’s nothing like a glimpse of new life to remind us that there is hope in the future.

When I told the Stantons about my problems signing up for the vaccine, Emma set to work searching at odd hours of the night and early morning when Baby Eleanor didn’t demand attention. Thanks to her, I now have an appointment. Adding to my delight, Shanice from Walgreens on West 42nd Street in Manhattan called to let me know she hasn’t forgotten me. If I end up with a choice of when the hottest commodity on Earth will be jabbed into my arm, I’ll take whichever date comes first. Then, when Ireland comes out of lockdown and travel allows, I’ll call Aer Lingus, get in touch with dancing friends in Clare, plan a birthday party in Mayo and prepare to massage my feet in the blue water and grains of gleaming white sand at Cuan na Cuime - Keem Bay.

Maura Mulligan is author of the memoir “Call of the Lark.”