Miracle at the Meadowlands

I wrote something very critical of the New Jersey vaccination process the other day; this is the follow-up. My appointment was today to get the vaccine. There are basically three tiers in the system now: one is through the mega-sites that use the state vaccination registry system (Somerset County, Morris County, and Middlesex County), one is through the mega-sites that don’t use the state vaccination registry system (the Meadowlands site, Burlington County, and the Atlantic City site where my wife got her vaccine last month), and the other is through the major chain pharmacies. The first-tier mega-sites are wait-and-hurry-up; at some magic moment the state will give you a registration code and an appointment, you just have to be patient. The third-tier pharmacy sites are all whackadoodle; you have to be on at just the right time when they’re ready for you, and if you don’t have your chakras aligned with the universe, you are out of luck.

The second-tier mega-sites are the way to go, they release appointments at a certain time and you can get one if you’re persistent and lucky. The Meadowlands site, where I went today, is affiliated with the nice people from Hackensack Meridian Health, who run a lot of hospitals in North Jersey. If you’re on their site at midnight, and keep hitting that refresh button, you can get an appointment, or that’s what I did. So this is my list of tips for anyone who’s going there:

  1. Sign up for MyChart once you have your appointment. This is the Hackensack Meridian patient portal. The key advantage of doing this is that, for reasons that don’t make any sense, the Hackensack people do not send you an email that tells you that you’re registered. If you have any anxiety issues at all, you can sign up with MyChart (the HMH version, other hospitals use the same software), and it will tell you when your appointment is.
  2. Get there in plenty of time. You want to go to Parking Lot M, which is a little sliver of parking in the big Meadowlands complex. The vaccines are given in the west grandstand of the racetrack, which is just north of MetLife Stadium. (Why they don’t use the stadium itself I do not know.) There was a good bit of parking when I went there; didn’t really have much trouble with traffic or parking. (I had one moment of panic where the police shut down Route 206 north of where I live, but that was just for a few seconds to deal with an idjit driver who was going southbound in the northbound lanes.)
  3. You’re going to have to wait. There was a three-stage line when I went there: a) a line to get into the building, out in the freezing wind–this was populated by Army National Guard soldiers with bullhorns who barked out the latest time when you could get in time. I got there at 10:55 for an 11:10 appointment, and had to loiter out in the cold wind for three or four minutes before they would let you on the line. (This is to combat the very long lines they’ve had periodically.) All they will do at that point is check your printout to see if you have an appointment. After that, b) you have to climb a steep ramp which does NOT comport with ADAAG standards, I’ll have you know. There’s a checkpoint at the top of the ramp–which is inside, out of the biting wind–where they check you in and give you a little plastic card with a QR code printed on it. After that is c) another line to get to the registration desk.
  4. Bring your significant other with you. Okay, so I went with my wife to the Atlantic Convention Center mega-site, and could not have felt more useless. So you might be thinking, hey, I can just go myself, leave the Mrs. at home, right? Yeah, don’t do that. Why? Because if you’re signed up, and your spouse isn’t, they might just offer to sign up your spouse for their first appointment at the same time you get your second dose. Cool, eh? (They do NOT do this at the AC center, if they had, I would have jumped on that option like a duck on a Ritz cracker crumb.) The only flaw in this system is that it’s only one person you can do this for. One of the people ahead of me in line was a twentysomething kid who had brought his elderly parents, and they would not let him into the registration area–only two people at a time, that’s the rule.
  5. It’s going to take awhile. I was signed up for 11:10 AM, and didn’t get the shot until close to 11:45 AM. That’s not bad! I was able to pick up the plastic bin that the Mrs. wanted me to get at the Container Store in Bridgewater on my way home, and was in home in time to pick up the kids from school. But, yeah, it took maybe a little longer than you might think.
  6. So far, so good. The shot wasn’t painful, and the arm isn’t incredibly sore. No side effects yet (this was the Pfizer shot, in case you’re keeping score at home.)

Anyway, lookit. The fact that we have a vaccine today is nothing short of a miracle. I don’t know for sure if it’s a miracle cure or not. But I was glad to get it done, no matter how aggravating the process was, and I’m glad I have an appointment for three weeks from now for the second shot.