I was naïve.
For 10 months, I thought that a COVID-19 vaccine would be found, and then the vaccine would be distributed and administered, and then I would get one. From that point on, boom, the After Times would begin, looking a lot like the Before Times.
I fantasized about that day. I made plans for the resumption of my old life. I would go back to coffee shops and sit down and savor my latte. I would get back to playing pickup soccer. I would go into stores without fear. I would go back to work and interact with my students. I’d go back to stadiums and cover games. We’d see friends and go on holidays again. I’d get to see my mom and family in Europe again. My dreams were small, but those were the things I looked forward to.
I’m a college lecturer in my other job, which entitled me to a vaccine in the state of New York as of this past Monday — I don’t make the rules, so address your complaints to the governor. I stayed up late on Sunday and furiously made an appointment as soon as the clock hit midnight.
I was elated. My personal pandemic would be over.
Or at least, once I’d had my second shot 28 days after the first and then waited two more weeks to complete the six-week vaccination process, I would be.
I got my first shot of the vaccine on Thursday night. It was both an anxious and joyous occasion. I worried that I’d turn out not to be eligible after all, even though the language in New York state’s “phase 1b” eligibility rules was clear as day. I worried that it was so late in the day that they might run out of doses or something. I worried about everything.
After a quick temperature check at the door, I was ushered into a room. What struck me was how pleasant and upbeat the staff was, so late in the day at this family health center up in the Hudson Valley. The nurses had worked an awfully long shift already, but they were still chipper. They understood full well the importance of the work they were doing, and it seemed to sustain them.
People had come to them in all kinds of moods, ranging from frightened to festive. But they had all gotten a shot that would begin to usher them out of the pandemic. That was the part of the job the nurses seemed to relish. “It’s a little bit of hope for all of us,” one nurse told me.
The thing is, not a whole lot has changed yet. And that’s the bit I didn’t expect, that I hadn’t prepared myself for.
And it won’t change drastically anytime soon. Now that I’m getting vaccinated, it turns out things aren’t as simple as just picking up my old life. We are faced with other considerations, a whole new set of complications.
Throughout this pandemic, our family has been been careful in the extreme. We haven’t gone into grocery stores. We haven’t eaten in restaurants. We’ve avoided crowded playgrounds. We haven’t gotten haircuts. We’ve certainly not taken planes or public transportation. My son went back to preschool in person for a bit, until numbers spiked again in our area around Thanksgiving.
For a long while, we wiped groceries and left our mail sitting for several days before opening it, until it was confirmed that low-touch surfaces are highly unlikely to transmit the virus. We haven’t seen most of our friends for the better part of a year. We formed a pod with my in-laws and made a commitment to each other to preserve the sanctity of our bubble.
We figured that, in retrospect, it might seem like we took too many precautions, that we were too careful. But that can only be true if none of us gets sick. It only looks like an overreaction if it works. If we relaxed and one or more of us did get sick, it would mean we didn’t do enough. There is no space between those two outcomes. It’s a zero-sum game. We might lose out on experiences, but it’s surely better than to lose a life — whether one of ours or someone else’s. Or even to permanently lose the full function of your heart or nose or taste buds.
But now that, by a magnificent stroke of good fortune and the favor of career choices, all four of the adults in our pod have had their first shots, we have to worry about other things. My old life feels closer, within reach, but I can’t touch it yet.
Moderna says it doesn’t expect to have data on children ages 1-11 until 2022. Which is to say that my 4 1/2-year-old will be vulnerable for much longer. If the virus isn’t brought to heel by herd immunity, he could be exposed to risk for another year.
Until now, the worry had been the danger he posed to us, the grownups in the pod. The science said children were likelier to catch COVID asymptomatically in school and spread it to adults. Now, the worry is that we might give it to him.
Because there isn’t any clarity on whether those who are vaccinated can carry and spread the disease to those who are not. That’s the next stage in the vaccine research. Scientists think that, in theory, the vaccine should also prevent spread. But they haven’t confirmed it yet.
So until we know that we can’t get our kid sick, we have to adjust our post-vaccine life accordingly. Just like everyone else in this pandemic, we have had to assess the amount of risk we’re willing to tolerate. And how to parse that, exactly, remains almost as fraught as before we got the vaccine.
It will be much safer for the adults to do things now — although when it kicks in fully, we’re still only 94.1 percent protected, meaning a one-in-20 chance of infection remains if we’re exposed to the virus. But loosening our own protocols has an inverse risk factor on our son. What’s more, we could possibly still spread to other people, whether we know them or not, unwittingly perpetuating the pandemic.
The equation is different now — much more favorable, but complicated nonetheless.
Don’t misunderstand me, we’re very grateful for the vaccine. Grateful that it was developed and produced and distributed so quickly. Grateful that we got a relatively early turn. Grateful that our family is much safer now.
But it isn’t the end of our worries. The pandemic doesn’t end the day you yourself are no longer at risk.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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