SOMERVILLE – I received the call one day after my birthday.
“Hello, this is the ShopRite of Somerville, New Jersey calling with an important health message,” the robotic woman said to me. “We were recently notified by the New Jersey state Department of Health that an employee who worked in the store’s deli department has hepatitis A. We’re contacting you because our Price Plus Club records show you or someone in your household purchased sliced deli meats, cheeses or sandwiches at the deli in the Somerville store between October 13 and October 30 – the period of time that the employee was likely contagious.”
Great. Happy birthday to me.
That’s how I found myself waiting in line for 90 minutes on Thursday for a free hepatitis A vaccine.
One man walked out after receiving the vaccine and said, jokingly, “Anyone who wants the shot in the butt gets priority!”
That was a little bit of comic relief in an anxious situation.
Somerset County announced it would be offering free hepatitis A vaccines for those who may have come in contact with the potentially contaminated foods.
This was great news considering that the vaccine — which calls for two doses six months apart for long-term effectiveness — could cost anywhere from $60 to $300.
Little did I know that my sliced Cajun chicken breast and muenster cheese would land me in a line the length of a football field.
My co-worker, Cheryl, and I decided to originally meet at the Somerset County Department of Health around 1 p.m. Wednesday. Not a far journey considering the county health department is located across the parking lot from our newsroom.
We waited in the line for about 15 or 20 minutes before we were offered a priority pass for the following day.
The vaccines were scheduled to be given noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Shortly after leaving the line Wednesday, priority passes in hand, we found out through a news release that the free shots would be cut short at 4:30 p.m. due to an “overwhelming public response.”
We decided to put our reporter noggins together and showed up a half hour before noon on Thursday to beat the line, which was a good idea — but the roughly 250 other people already waiting in line had the same one.
READ: Hepatitis A at ShopRite: Hundreds turn out for free vaccines in Somerville
Even with our priority passes, the whole process lasted from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (to be fair, the doors didn’t open until noon). Despite the line being longer early Thursday afternoon, it seemed to be moving quicker and smoother than the line on Wednesday.
The wait was bearable because of the friendly conversations with folks I would have never have met if not for our common needs for the vaccine. I made friends with a friendly couple from Bound Brook and another woman who had just moved to Raritan Borough.
We spoke about topics ranging from our favorite restaurants to infectious diseases and vaccines. We commiserated because we were all victims of bad luck — this could have happened anywhere and to anyone.
READ: Free hepatitis A vaccines offered after Somerville ShopRite deli worker infected
The Somerset County Health Department workers inside the building did a good job at calming everyone and kept the lines as organized as possible, considering that the whole operation was quickly thrown together given the circumstances.
In the end, the shot wasn’t all that bad — just a commonplace prick in the arm.
I do, however, plan on getting a second dose in six months that will give me long-term immunity. Yesterday, Nikolaos Pyrsopoulos, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me that “optimally, two shots are needed. But, one shot as well, can offer post-exposure protection.”
The vaccine was the reason why I went, but I ended up leaving with a memory I’ll have for a lifetime.
Staff Writer Nick Muscavage is an award-winning watchdog reporter whose work spans many topics and has spurred the creation of a state law. Contact him: 908-243-6615; [email protected]; @nmuscavage.