Looks like we might be waiting longer than hoped for complete artistic rejuvenation during the pandemic. We’re making do, but some forms just don’t translate to the current options.
I sit on the board of a nonprofit organized around performing arts, jazz, specifically. We’ve been nearly dormant for a full year now, only commissioning some recorded collaborations we posted online for members. Demographically, that membership hews along similar lines to the Mobile Symphony Orchestra crowd: middle-aged and older, but we’re more ethnically diverse. That means our crowd is exactly who would be most concerned about COVID-19.
So, vaccine arrival has been tied to the safety of our individual members and the vitality of our organization. We need it to continue.
In our January video board meeting, we tentatively circled April — National Jazz Appreciation Month — for renewing live performances. Vaccines were shipping out. Leaders on various levels were optimistic.
A month later, that changed. The emerging difficulties and snarls in local vaccination efforts made it clear April was likely to come and go without us having one of our customary events. Shame, too, since September is the organization’s 20th anniversary.
As an example, among the nearly 10 directors on the most recent video meeting, nearly all would have been eligible for the vaccine on that day. To my knowledge, only one had an appointment for inoculation.
Of the two youngest members, one was qualified by profession. He’s a teacher.
The other was me. While I’m technically a media member, what should have been more qualifying is my shaky health status. My severe respiratory issues have put me in the hospital about seven times in the last 16 years for lung disease. It’s why I use concentrated oxygen when I sleep. It’s why anything that causes a stuffy head — a cold or seasonal allergies — leads to bronchitis then pneumonia.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough to warrant vaccination for a disease first described as a “deadly new pneumonia.” Anticipation built as the Feb. 8 date was dangled like a carrot for my group of those under 65 years of age with high-risk conditions. I went by every website available and registered weeks in advance for a vaccine appointment. For one site, I did it every few days, like buying more chances at a lottery payoff.
Then one website shut down. A phone number for another clinic only had an automated message saying they were out of vaccine.
Yet every day, my wife would walk around the house nearly shouting in anger about people she saw on social media touting their new vaccines. Almost to a person, they were younger and healthier than me. She was confused and frustrated.
Vaccine line-jumping has become an issue in locations nationwide. People gaming the system, utilizing their connections, social esteem, free time or other resources to get the highly sought needle jab when their demographic description didn’t qualify them. That’s nothing new, sadly.
I reached out to a contact in the Mobile County Health Department. I asked how people acquired vaccines ahead of me when they didn’t meet the criteria. The contact sympathized with me but said vaccine supplies were terribly low, and I wasn’t eligible. They had to adhere to the eligibility formulary, or it would endanger their future acquisition of more vaccine.
It didn’t answer my question, but their hands were likely tied. How could they tell me to skirt a befuddling but inequitable prioritization system without jeopardizing the department?
They expressed relief for high-risk folks in other vaccines being developed and pointed out the Johnson & Johnson version. Unlike the two offered now — Pfizer and Moderna, each over 90 percent effective — Johnson & Johnson’s has been just over 60 percent effective. I guess those at the highest risk should just take what we’re offered and be glad for it.
I’ve nursed a cracked tooth since Hurricane Sally, unwilling to let a dentist hover over my open mouth for hours without first being vaccinated. That stays on the back shelf now, too.
But if my experience is like the other folks in our performing arts group’s membership, we might be lucky to make it back to a proximity of normalcy sometime this summer. We have contingency plans — an audience in their cars watching a live band in a parking lot — but it loses the intimacy so vital to what is effectively our nation’s spin on chamber music.
I guess this is the proverbial difference between what you need and what you want. Those who succumbed to the virus don’t enjoy the choice.
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