SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
It was a year ago on Thursday that the World Health Organization announced a risk of possible wider outbreak of a new coronavirus first found in Wuhan, China. Scientists raced to develop a vaccine, and over 11 million Americans have now received a first dose. Not BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music, but NPR's Bob Mondello was among the first in line this week.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: 8:45 a.m. on a weekday in Washington, D.C. If anyone needed a reminder why the coronavirus vaccine is important, here's one - an almost-empty train pulling up to an almost-empty subway platform at the height of rush hour.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
AUTOMATED VOICE: Doors opening.
MONDELLO: I joined five other passengers on a car with 62 seats, taking my place as far from each of the others as they must have when they got on.
AUTOMATED VOICE: Facial coverings are required at all times while riding Metrorail and Metrobus.
MONDELLO: I'm traveling across town to a senior center that's dispensing COVID shots two trains and a bus ride away from my home. When I logged onto the District's vaccination website to make an appointment, the two-dozen closer locations had no reservations left. This is the first time people over 65 are eligible, and by day's end, all available slots had been snapped up all across the District. So I'm lucky, as are the 17 people lined up before me when the center opens at 10 a.m., opens being a relative term. We're lined up outside on this brisk January morning.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, six feet apart.
MONDELLO: And until your appointment time is just a couple of minutes away, you stay outside. Inside, things are bright and socially distanced.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hello, everyone.
MONDELLO: They're dispensing the Moderna vaccine, which does not have to be kept insanely cold. And the process at this center is so efficient it seems almost anticlimactic.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Have a seat in the empty chair, and then fill out the form on both sides. And then they'll call you as soon as you're ready.
MONDELLO: A form to sign, a pinprick and, about 90 seconds after I enter the room, a sticker saying vaccinated - sort of an adult lollipop to take home. I'm told to come back in four weeks for a booster shot that will make me as protected as I'll ever be. And that, I guess, is that.
It all reminded me of a friend's observation that the most important home renovation he'd ever done - replacing his roof - was, in a sense, the least dramatic. Before he did it, he had a roof. After he did it, he'd spent thousands of dollars, and he had a roof. This feels a lot like that. I have not been sick with the coronavirus. And now that I've gotten the first of my two shots, the chances that I'll get sick are much-diminished. That's good because I'm old enough to be at heightened risk of dying, but society is still at risk, so it won't change the fact that I'll need to wear masks, stay six feet away from people, avoid crowds until most of the public has been vaccinated, too. It's enormously important, this protective roof I've put on my own risk - a miracle provided by medical professionals, to whom I am profoundly grateful for putting me back where we all started. I'm Bob Mondello.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ABOUT A HUNDRED PEOPLE")
PAMELA MYERS: (Singing) Another hundred people just got off the train and came up through the ground, while another hundred people just got off of the bus and are looking around at another hundred people who got off of the plane and are looking at us who got off of the train and the plane and the bus maybe yesterday.
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