I got my third COVID-19 vaccine last week—in fact, as I type this, I got my shot a mere 30 minutes ago. I’m hoping this dose doesn’t wear me out the way the second dose did.

I’ve never given so much thought to vaccines until the last two years.

They were a luxury I took for granted.

Sure, I got vaccinated as a baby, and I remember lining up in sixth grade to get a tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis shot that left my arm sore and my fear of needles entirely unchanged. One of the students was so distressed at the prospect of needles that she cried for a good 20 minutes before calming down enough to get her shot. I’m not quite that fearful, but I am one of those people who can’t look at the needle as I get a shot or a blood draw. Seeing it happen somehow bothers me much more than any pinch of discomfort or post-shot-sore-arm. Medicine was clearly never my calling.

Aside from my queasiness around needles, getting vaccinated was not something that distressed me. Vaccinations are something I never gave much thought to at all (I have been truly terrible at getting my flu vaccine over the years).

Before 2020, I never understood the deep and life altering fear that comes with a pandemic—especially when there is no vaccine and the medical world doesn’t know yet how to treat the disease (because it’s novel). We’re a long way from early 2020 when it comes to preventing the spread of Covid, understanding the kind of harm it can cause and treating it effectively after someone gets sick. I feel grateful for that every day, even as we watch the number of cases swing back up. At least we have some tools at our disposal to help keep our loved ones healthy and are quickly developing more.

Vaccines are a pretty phenomenal innovation. They’ve helped us eradicate smallpox and eliminate polio from much of the world.

Not having vaccines available comes at a human cost. In 1986, children’s book author Roald Dahl—the fanciful imagination behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda—wrote a letter imploring parents to vaccinate their children for measles. His 7-year-old daughter Olivia caught measles in 1962, before there was a vaccine available, and passed away after the measles turned into measles encephalitis.

“I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything. ‘Are you feeling all right?’, I asked her. ‘I feel all sleepy’. She said. In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead,” he wrote.

As labyrinthine as accessing healthcare can become, getting vaccinated for Covid is blessedly simple at the moment. Especially in New Mexico, where the state has its own conveniently laid out website. Vaccines are available in schools and at pharmacies.

My third COVID vaccine has been the easiest to get, logistically speaking. A quick visit to the Walmart pharmacy and I was taken care of. But, I did get to visit the beach after my first two doses. I was still living in Mississippi back in April. When I scheduled my first vaccination, the closest and earliest appointment I could get was at a drive-thru vaccination site an hour away. The site was being run very efficiently by the National Guard. You didn’t get to pick which kind of vaccine you’d receive. When you arrived, a national guardsman would place a colored and laminated card on your windshield that designated you Pfizer or Moderna. I don’t know how they decided who got which.

I remember being worried that my card would be blown off by the wind as I followed a slow line of cars into the parking structure where doses where being distributed. The folks running the vaccine site were friendly and efficient.

Still, it took over an hour of waiting to get my first dose. For my second dose, I was in and out within 15 minutes. In the three weeks between my first and second doses, I think many of the people who wanted to get vaccinated in the area had done it and vaccine distribution had slowed.

The perk of driving an hour away to get vaccinated was that I had also driven an hour closer to the ocean. I stopped at a Cane’s drive-thru and got myself some fried chicken for lunch. Then I sprawled out on the nearly empty beach for an hour or two. If you’re going to do something prosocial yet mildly unpleasant, like get vaccinated, might as well do something relaxing afterwards. There’re no ocean beaches near Socorro, but maybe I can still find some good fried chicken.