This month brought us a tremendous gift: the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
After the State Department received far fewer doses of the vaccine than expected in December, many of its estimated 76,000 employees and their dependents around the world are still waiting for shots. In some cases, diplomats have been able to obtain vaccinations from the countries they are posted to more quickly than from their employer. As embassies and consulates around the world struggle almost a year into the pandemic to resume normal operations, employees are wondering when they will have a turn to be vaccinated so we can continue our most mission-critical services and work.
In our case, being posted to Mexico but only four miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, in early February – with the assistance and good work of our consulate leadership – V and I were able to take advantage of an opportunity to receive our vaccines in El Paso, Texas.
The process was fairly painless, and although some people had difficult side effects, I did not. The only hiccup was when we went to leave to get our first dose in early February, both Volkswagen remotes decided to simultaneously go haywire and I couldn’t disengage the alarm and get the doors open.
We couldn’t take the 4Runner because it was in the garage… blocked by the Volkswagen, which was sitting in the driveway. So hoping we wouldn’t set off the alarm, we got into the Volkswagen with the valet key and fortunately were on our way. After all, we may be traveling a half hour up the road, but we are crossing an international border in the middle of a pandemic, and when we need to head out there’s no fooling around. That means we always have our diplomatic documents, we always have water, and yes, I do carry the valet key for an 11 year old vehicle – just in case.
It definitely did not escape my attention that we could literally see Ciudad Juárez across the freeway from El Paso while we were sitting in the recovery room after our vaccinations. People were bustling around, going about their everyday lives in the new normal of the pandemic, so close to a vaccine but also a world away.
Most of my colleagues still are not vaccinated against COVID-19, and the consulate has yet to resume fully normal operations or get out of Phase I, almost a year after pandemic-related suspensions. It will take some time. And the vaccine is not the cure-all, particularly with talk of variant strains and booster shots, and how many people are still waiting their turn. My dad, stepmom, mom, and nana are all also vaccinated, which brings me a lot of relief.
The nurse who vaccinated me asked, “What are you going to do for the rest of the day?”
“I gotta get back to work,” I replied. “I work in Juárez,” I said.
“Oh,” she replied. “What is it that you do there?” I felt the sensation of the vaccination going into my left arm, like a flu shot.
“I work at the American consulate. We provide consular services to Americans. You know, when U.S. citizens in our part of Mexico need passports, if they need help voting, if they get arrested and go to jail, we interview them. If they die and need to be repatriated…” I trailed off as her eyes widened. “That kind of stuff.”
“Whoa,” she said. “That sounds important.”
“So is what you’re doing,” I told her. “Thank you so much.”