A couple of months back, as vaccine eligibility was rapidly expanding, and the conversation in Humboldt County quickly began to shift from availability to hesitancy, we asked readers to share their stories. We wanted to hear people's motivations and fears, how it felt to get the shot and what came after, what felt different and what they were doing different in post-vaccinated life.
In the ensuing weeks, we received dozens of replies, with readers sharing their experiences and emotions. Some said they couldn't wait to get their shots. Others were afraid or skeptical of the vaccine at first but came to feel it was the right thing to do, for themselves, their loved ones or the community, or all three. But the overwhelming overarching sentiment expressed was gratitude. People are thankful for the science and scientists who made this possible, for a newfound sense of hope and security, for the promise of tomorrow.
As the Journal went to press July 13, roughly 48 percent of Humboldt County residents were fully vaccinated, with another 6 percent having received one dose. Tens of thousands of local residents have so far passed on the chance to get vaccinated, or other barriers have prevented them from doing it. With that in mind, it seemed an appropriate time to share our readers' vaccine stories thinking, perhaps, hope may prove contagious.
'They Have Come Through for Us'
The thing about a novel coronavirus: it's new. We don't know all the implications of an infection. So, watching the disease trajectory unfold in this country, seeing news from New York City in crisis, talking to a relative who was in South America and who saw bodies pile up in the streets, I was aware, as someone who is over 60, a case of COVID-19 posed an increased threat to me. And I had another reason to look forward to the vaccine.
My 38-year-old niece got "presumed COVID" in March of 2020. There was no available testing at the time. She was plenty ill, but not hospitalized. All of us in the family were worried, but she was young and healthy, and by April she was well out of the woods. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
In July, my niece suddenly developed alarming neurological problems. She wound up in the ER several times, unable to walk, sometimes unable to put words together. The possible diagnoses were truly scary. Stroke? Brain cancer? For two and a half months she was often too fatigued to sit up in bed, or talk on the phone.
We could do nothing to help her.
Long haul COVID was only just being recognized. Now, scientists say about one in three of those who get COVID-19 — even a mild case — will experience neurological or psychological problems.
It has been terrifying and heartbreaking to watch my vibrant, capable niece struggle to keep going. Reacting with characteristic resourcefulness, she worked laying down when she couldn't sit. She changed her diet and spent hours researching how to moderate her symptoms. She has made remarkable progress. Yet she is still not back to her previous good health.
She is not alone. A growing number of formerly healthy people will be dealing with long haul COVID for an unknown length of time.
Day after day in 2020 I considered, as I drove to my retail job, whether I might bring home COVID-19. I worried I might infect my husband, who has additional risk factors. I knew this disease is fickle and unpredictable, and there seems to be no predicting who might suffer death or disability. None of us would have thought my niece was at high risk for complications. In my own version of denial, I didn't fear getting the disease as much as I feared spreading it — to my family, co-workers, customers or friends.
I have struggled in the past with weird and very uncomfortable reactions to various vaccines, but when I weighed the possible repercussions of vaccine side effects against those of getting and possibly spreading the disease, I was anxious to receive the vaccine. I was vaccinated in March. I am relieved that I don't have to worry about bringing disease home to my vulnerable family or friends, or to the young children in my neighborhood.
We have asked such a lot from scientists and from our government during this crisis. Astonishingly, they have come through for us. I am grateful to benefit from this amazing feat. I would not want anyone to have to suffer as my niece has, or to watch their beloved relative go through what she has endured with such resilience and grace.
I really didn't feel the actual shot, but afterward, I was surprised how I felt so relieved and excited. I knew I would not make anyone sick or take up a hospital bed and could relax at the market or in a restaurant. I love this place and want all of us to be healthy and protected as much as possible. It was crazy easy to do. I felt so patriotic, it surprised me.
'Recluse Ever Since'
From the time COVID-19 started I was terrified and have been a recluse ever since. When I did have to go out, I stayed far away from people ... all the time wearing my N95 mask.
When 65+ became eligible, I made an appointment for a specific time but when I got there it was just a long line and no appointments were honored.
Twice I went on a wild goose chase from Trinidad to Eureka expecting an appointment. Because I am disabled, I can't stand in line for long and I don't have an expensive walker, I had to leave.
I finally got the first appointment this month and had credentials to prove my appointment time and place. When I got there, they moved it to Saturday, another wild goose chase.
When I got there at the Arcata City Center on Saturday, they still sent me to the end of the line outside, so I had to fix the problem by demanding to speak to whoever was in charge to get what I needed to get this done after all the runarounds as nobody would help me, and nobody cared.
The same runaround for my second shot. But I'm finally fully vaxed and ready in one more week to feel safer. But I'm still wearing my N95 masks because of the stupid rules that came out of the CDC.
'Effective and Safe'
I just finished nursing school at College of the Redwoods. I got my first (Moderna) vaccine back in January and second in February.
Any hesitancy I had over the "newness" of the vaccines was overridden by my desire to protect the vulnerable populations I was working with in clinicals, as well as classmates, teachers and my household (as I was in the hospital multiple days a week, I was our home's biggest exposure risk). I also didn't want the interruption that getting COVID would have been — I would have had to miss and make up weeks of school and work, as would my whole household, even for asymptomatic cases. Not something we can afford. And the path back to "normalcy" depends on high rates of vaccination.
I also did a bunch of research on the new vaccines. I discovered that while the vaccines for COVID-19 were made quickly, they came from work that had been going on for nearly two decades. Also, I had been somewhat concerned about the mRNA part, until I learned that they don't interact with your cells' DNA at all. The vaccine triggers ribosomes in immune cells to create little spike proteins that are similar to the COVID spike, and then your body learns to fight them. That's it. These vaccines are extremely effective and safe!
I got pretty sick with my second shot, but when I (finally) took a Tylenol, my fever broke immediately and I was back to normal the next day.
I don't think I can express the amount of relief that I felt when my mom and grandma got vaccinated (around the same time as me), and then the rest of my family and my whole household. I took lockdown seriously, and can now feel good that we made it through, without guilt that anything I did may have led to someone else's death or serious illness. Having my whole house vaccinated, I'm ready to unmask and have people over and generally return to our previous lifestyle. It's great!
A Needle Phobe's Tale
I got the COVID-19 vaccine because I wanted to do my part to keep myself and others safe as possible from this highly contagious illness. It took me, however, more than two months to find a safe-to-me location to get one. Why? Beginning about the age of four — at community gatherings for mass polio vaccine in the early 1950s — I have experienced what is called vasovagle syncope (fainting) when getting needle sticks. Repeated experiences of this then led to a classic fear-avoidance needle phobia.
Over the decades since, I have learned that I need specific accommodations to successfully experience injections. There are many folks who WANT the vaccine, but are tremendously fearful of the process for various reasons. Needle phobics tend to avoid medical procedures requiring needle sticks, and may be embarrassed and ashamed by this. It doesn't help that they are often ridiculed, denigrated or dismissed by others for their feelings. It is thought that needle phobics comprise between 3.5-10 percent of the population ... that would be about 4,745 to 13,556 people locally, based on the county's population. A great place to begin — very readable to the lay person — in understanding the various ways this phobia presents is Jerry Emanuelson's The Needle Phobia Page, https://www.needlephobia.com.
I worked with my doctor, the fabulous Connie Basch, for strategies to be successful, and am VERY grateful to the the clinic held at the Pacific Union School gym, staffed by Mad River Hospital — a big shout-out to Mad River's Chief Nursing Officer David Neal and those staffing the clinic; they worked with me in advance to understand my situation, met my primary need to lay down and have a friend accompany me, took me seriously, were so very kind, attentive and made me feel safe throughout the process. Yay, I did it!!!
Five Reasons I'm Vaccinated
1. I didn't want to get sick and/or die.
2. I didn't my family to get sick and/or die.
3. I didn't want my neighbors to get sick and/or die.
4. I have a responsibility to all of humanity.
5. The science is good, the vaccine is safe, and we need to look out for each other.
Well, the reason is that I have lupus, and many other autoimmune syndromes. I got the Pfizer shot, and I immediately had a bad reaction: chills, body aches, etc. However, I now feel like I am covered.
Lisa Louise Townsend-Schmitt
I had my vaccine a few months ago. No problemas at all. I feel so blessed to have done that. I hope everyone will have the vaccine so life will be easier.
Hesitant, Then Grateful
At first I was a little hesitant to get an unapproved vaccine, but I really wanted to get our community moving forward to a new normal. I decided to get the Pfizer shot. After the vaccination, I felt very tired and had a sore arm. But that didn't last long. About a week after, I felt a huge sense of relief and newfound courage to go out to eat, and hug other people! I also could start going to classes again. I'm so grateful and am glad I got my COVID-19 vaccine!
A Caretaker's Responsibility
I care for elderly folks within the family, and a few of my younger-generation family are immunocompromised, so knowing that we'd like to return to family dinners and hangout times, I refused to be the selfish jerk who would spread something to them that would most likely kill them. It's part of the responsibility I took on by caring for my family, both immediate and extended.
'My Own Obituary'
I got the vaccine because I didn't want to keep mentally writing my own obituary. My cousin runs a company that staffs hospitals with doctors and nurses on the east coast, and I saw the pain she went through during the initial surge of the pandemic in the New York area. I saw her pain as she lost several co-workers who were toiling to treat sick patients. After the second vaccination, I felt icky for one day (fever, muscle and arm pain, headache) but then it went away. Kicking my immune system up a notch cleared a sinus infection I'd been struggling with for weeks. It did cause my eczema to flair for a few days, but it quickly cleared up.
I ended up getting the Moderna shots. First was fine and second I was achy and had chills for a day. Much better than the actual virus. I did it because I typically will catch anything going around and I wanted to protect myself, my family and friends. Not to mention getting it for all those who have compromised immune systems in Humboldt. I get people's hesitation but I'm community minded. I'm out for the "we" and not "me." The fact that people are still calling this a scam is ridiculous. Our government can barely pass simple laws let alone pull off a conspiracy job that involves the entire world. LOL. You give them far too much credit.
'What a Wonderful Feeling'
Vaccinated, and it feels so good... Vaccinated, like you know you should...
We live in the best place to go through something crazy like a global pandemic: on a rural, off-grid homestead. We have plenty of food and water and work to keep us occupied. Books to read, phone and internet for communication, pets to entertain us, vegetables and flowers to tend to, responsibilities to keep us focused. Only having to go to town to shop every other month is easy.
When the August Complex fire took off and we found ourselves in an Evacuation Warning Zone for two months, we realized leaving here for safety was not really going to be that safe due to the pandemic, which added more of an urgency to seeing the danger of contagion come to an end.
We're not spring chickens, but we are healthy and resilient. Still, the more we read, as new understanding came to light about the disease and its potential long-term consequences, we were very interested in getting the vaccine as soon as it was available, hoping to enjoy relaxed time with our family and friends again in the future. We had been watching the information on the vaccine process and impressed by the groundwork that had been done well ahead due to SARS and MERS in preparation for a future pandemic.
As soon as we were able, we got our first jab (Moderna). My husband had a sore arm, I had a sore arm which became a sore neck, back and body, disrupting my sleep that night. Both of us were a bit tired the next day. The shot itself was painless. Upon receiving our second shot our roles reversed, I only having a sore arm and he feeling like death warmed over that night, but all well the next day with the addition of ibuoprophen.
And what a wonderful feeling it is to be able to see vaccinated friends and family and be totally relaxed. We still mask in public close quarters and when I volunteer at vaccination clinics. We have adult relatives who are not vaccinated and we mask around them or visit outside. The relief and lessening of stress that came with being vaccinated is incredible. In fact, we recently had a solstice vaccination celebration and you have never seen so many relaxed and happy reunited old friends.
Dottie Simmons, Dinsmore