Stranded on a snowy highway, six Oregonians got surprise COVID-19 vaccines last night.
Stranded on a snowy highway, six Oregonians got surprise COVID-19 vaccines last night. JOSEPHINE COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
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Late last night, Oregonians got something we’ve been a little short on lately: Some good vaccine-related news.

From Southern Oregon’s Josephine County Public Health’s Facebook page:

“When Josephine County Public Health staff and volunteers concluded their mass vaccination event at the Illinois Valley High School this afternoon, they never guessed they might be setting up an impromptu clinic on the way back to Grants Pass. But that's exactly what happened when a snowstorm stranded about 20 personnel on Highway 199 near Hayes Hill.

At the end of the IVHS clinic, the team had six doses of COVID-19 vaccinations left to administer. Recipients had been identified in Grants Pass, but the snow meant those doses wouldn't make it to them before they expired. Not wanting to waste any doses, dedicated JCPH staff members began walking from car to car, offering stranded motorists a chance at receiving the vaccine (with an ambulance from AMR-Josephine County on hand for safety).

In the end, all six doses were administered...”

It sounds like a Hallmark Channel movie, if Hallmark movies were about disease prevention rather than romance: Stuck on a snowy highway in a remote corner of the state, strangers meet by chance and vaccinate themselves against the novel coronavirus.

The story made the rounds in the national news this morning, with write-ups in the New York Times and Buzzfeed, among others. Looked at factually, it isn’t very remarkable: Medical professionals prevent waste and reasonably vaccinate six people against the virus that has killed millions. A tiny drop in the bucket. But, like stories about lottery winners, it tickles that human instinct to think that maybe, just maybe, we can be the one-in-a-million lucky ones.

And right now, for most Oregonians who aren’t in the initially prioritized groups, getting vaccinated soon is starting to feel like a one-in-a-million proposition. Counties are running out of doses, the Biden administration is playing catch-up after inheriting a nonexistent distribution plan, and there’s confusion over which groups of people will (or should) get vaccinated first.

So we cling to romantic comedy meet-cute vaccination stories like this one, and maybe even fantasize about our own: Getting stuck in an out-of-service elevator with a nurse, being in the right place when a doctor realizes he’s misread the smudged expiration date on the vial, getting stuck on the OHSU sky tram with minutes to go before the doses expire. In California, vaccine chasers wait in line all day in the hopes of snagging a leftover dose at closing time. In Canada, privileged people take a trip to a remote town where the supply is less scarce.

Of course, eventually—and hopefully by the end of 2021—most of us will have our own vaccine stories, and most of them will be unremarkable. We will show up at the scheduled time at a hospital or a Walgreen’s, a harried doctor or pharmacist will jab us with a needle, and then we’ll do it all again in a few weeks. It will be a story we tell our kids or grandkids or friends’ offspring, and they’ll wish they were out hoverboarding with their friends instead of listening to this mundane memory.

But after a year of physical distancing and layoffs and so much grief, the mundane will feel extraordinary. It will feel like being stranded on a snowy highway in January, when suddenly a stranger approaches and offers you a winning lottery ticket.