Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

You would not have wanted to walk in my shoes in recent days. I was in an uphill fight to be serviced by our local pharmacies.

People over 50 — people like me — become increasingly likely to develop shingles, a viral infection whose hallmark is burning pain. One in three of us will be stricken.

I had been nonchalant about the shingles threat until last summer when I learned that Cheryl’s father had once suffered shingles of the penis. One could only imagine the horror!

That bit of family lore, combined with the news that a super-effective vaccine, Shingrix, had just come on the market, got me to Costco for a shot.

I suffered a mild fever for three days, but made sure to mark all my calendars for the essential follow-up shot two to six months later.

Here’s where things got complicated. When I revisited Costco two months later, they were out of Shingrix. There’s a national shortage of the vaccine, the clerk said, and no telling when they’ll get a new supply.

Call it overreacting, but I felt I’d received a death sentence.

Cheryl didn’t feel cheery either. She’d been hoping to get her first shot when I got my second.

I slunk back to Napa, failing to ask Costco if first-shot people would be a priority when the next Shingrix shipment came in. And supposing one did, how would I even know?

Internet research suggested that the Shingrix shortage was a real thing. The manufacturer, GSK, hadn’t anticipated the demand. Health experts were advising some one-shot people like me to seek out the older, less effective vaccine to tide them over.

I tried to play it cool. I had nearly four months to find a stocked pharmacy.

Only I couldn’t quell the queasy feeling that my very life was now at risk. So I started dialing.

A CVS in Napa told me they didn’t have Shingrix, but the word on the street was that Safeway on Trancas would be getting some.

My chat with the Safeway pharmacist was most interesting. Without admitting whether she did or didn’t have Shingrix, she wanted to know where I’d gotten my first shot.

Out of county, I said. While on a trip.

She sniffed a rat. Exactly where was this trip?

She had me. At a Costco in Solano County, I said, but the vaccination wasn’t planned. Like so much at Costco, my shot was an impulse buy. Doesn’t it count that my wife has a Safeway card and spends gobs of money on groceries?

It did not count. We have to take care of loyal, first-shot Safeway customers first, the pharmacist said.

A similar conversation played out over the phone at a second Napa CVS, only this time the clerk/pharmacist took pity on me. Rather than have me turn to the black market, she put my name on their wait list.

As for when more Shingrix would arrive, she had no idea.

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At this point Cheryl, who has superior shopping skills, took over. She wasn’t about to have shingles strike any of my body parts.

She called me at work the next day. I had to get my butt over to the Fairfield Costco IMMEDIATELY. They had four doses of Shingrex available for second-shot customers.

“Immediately” was not possible. I was in the process of putting out the weekend papers. Nor did I want to race over after work, fighting rush hour traffic, on a likely wild goose chase.

Instead, I went home grumbling about the unfairness of life.

Minutes before the Costco pharmacy closed that evening, Cheryl called again. Any Shingrix still available?

Costco wouldn’t answer that question until she provided my name and DOB. They wanted to verify that I’d received my first shot there.

Only then did the clerk say yes, a single dose was available.

I wanted that dose of Shingrix so badly I had trouble sleeping. We had one mission and one mission only the next morning: Be at Costco the moment it opened.

At 9:30 sharp, I bolted for the pharmacy to present my Shingrix-deficient self.

That remaining single dose? I got it.

Never has a needle in the arm felt so good.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.