Like thousands of our fellow North Carolinians, my wife and I recently participated in one of the mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics held across the state. We received our second dose of the Moderna vaccination at the Bank of America Stadium last week. Approximately 20,000 people received vaccinations during this three-day event, but that large number is only part of the story. For me, the experience of being in that number was almost as meaningful as getting vaccinated.
Dutifully following the detailed instructions that had been sent to us by Atrium Health, we arrived at the Legacy Union Parking Deck about fifteen minutes before our appointment time. We climbed down the stairs in the parking deck and joined the stream of people making their way to the stadium. Just the experience of walking the block from the parking deck to the stadium felt exhilarating.
I enjoyed being part of this polite and happy parade of people in their 60s and 70s, and I felt like I had much in common with the other people in the parade. We were united not just by our status as seniors but also by our shared sense of purpose—our collective determination to defeat COVID-19. While everybody wore a mask and made an effort to maintain social distancing, I had a feeling that I was now part of group. Like so many others, I have often felt isolated during the past year, but that sense of isolation dissipated as we made our way to the stadium.
I have no idea how the organizers of this event found so many cheerful volunteers and staff members Everyone I spoke to during the whole vaccination process patiently answered questions, provided clear instructions, and expressed a concern for the well-being of all of us who came to be vaccinated. From the person who stopped traffic so that we could cross the street, to the volunteers who directed us to the appropriate lines, to the medical technicians who gave us the shots, everybody made an effort to be welcoming and supportive. During the whole process, I never once felt like I was just a cog in a giant machine.
Once I got my second vaccination, I waited with my wife in the designated area to make sure that we did not have an adverse reaction to the vaccination. I sat for half an hour and watched the other people who just got their shots file by. Even though their faces were covered by masks, I had a sense that they were all smiling. Sure, our arms hurt a little bit where we got the shots, but we all took some satisfaction in knowing that we had done our part to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community from the coronavirus.
As my wife and I made our way back to the parking deck and then drove home, I felt for the first time in a year a sense of optimism. Knowing that we along with thousands of other people were now vaccinated made me feel hopeful about ending this horrible pandemic that has caused so much pain.
However, getting the vaccination isn’t the only reason that I felt optimistic. My optimism was also tied to the strong sense of community that I experienced during this vaccination event. If thousands of people can join together and make a mass vaccination event such a huge success, then perhaps we can harness this sense of community and shared purpose to address not just the pandemic but all the other problems that face us in these troubled times.
Regular contributor Mark I. West is the Bonnie E. Cone Professor in Civic Engagement at UNC-Charlotte.