Most people talk about their COVID-19 vaccine experience in terms of the side effects. But can we put that to the side for just a minute and go a little deeper? After all, getting vaccinated against a new virus during a global pandemic definitely counts as a Big Life Moment you’ll never forget.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 60% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a remarkable feat and a sign of hope after more than a year of sporadic quarantines, disrupted work schedules, missing holidays, and social distancing from loved ones.
That’s why those little jabs can stir up some serious emotions. Here, 10 fully vaccinated folks from different walks of life talk about what went on in their minds as they got vaxxed—and how their lives have changed since.
Nurse practitioner Andrea B. was nearly brought to tears when she got vaccinated in December—and still cries when she talks about it today. “I felt so happy. I felt blessed. It’s still fresh. I remember sitting in that chair, just feeling relief,” says Andrea, who lives in Atlanta.
The 34-year-old treated the first wave of COVID patients last March at the urgent care where she works. And the effects of the pandemic hit even closer to home when her father contracted the virus and spent 21 days on a ventilator in the ICU.
“It was hard risking my life every day, especially after my dad’s situation,” Andrea says. Thankfully, her father made a full recovery and hasn’t experienced any long-term side effects.
The experience has made Andrea especially grateful to have gotten her shots—and hopeful for the future. “I have a vacation planned for July!” she says. Still, it’s been hard knowing that not everyone has the same protection. “I know there are a lot of people that need it and have had to wait,” she says.
It took some time for Adina C. to warm up to the idea of lining up for her dose, and the scene at her local vaccination site didn’t help. “There were these large white tents and people in three layers of PPE. It seemed like something out of Contagion,” recalls the 49-year-old mom of five from Hollywood, FL. The apocalyptic vibe had her on edge the entire time, and feeling like she had been pressured into getting immunized added to her nerves.
“There was this sense of, everyone is telling me to do it. I’m not doing it because it’s my own decision,” she says. But her feelings changed after the jab. “Once I had it, I felt a little empowered,” she says.
Now she doesn’t worry about getting sick and having to quarantine when her kids’ friends come over. She’s making plans to hopefully visit her family abroad. And she and her son can finally go to National Institute of Health’s medical campus in Washington D.C., where he had been receiving treatment for a medical condition before the pandemic. “I wasn’t terrified about the vaccine, but I had been questioning,” she says. “Having had it done, it’s definitely made me so much calmer.”
“The health, emotional, and economic impacts of the pandemic have been so heavy on my heart,” says 45-year-old Trevor D. of northeastern Ohio. In addition to following stringent safety measures at home—only gathering with others outdoors and masked, even in winter—Trevor leads a residential summer camp for children with special needs. “I felt such a responsibility to keep my campers and team safe,” he says.
The weight started easing up as soon as he got his vaccine. “I felt a bit of the emotional angst lift as I looked around the room. I felt hopeful and thankful for the healthcare workers and government agencies who made this a reality,” says Trevor.
Now he’s feeling optimistic about the summer, knowing he and his staff will be able to safely care for their campers. And he and his wife are taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the small pleasures they’ve long gone without. “For my wife’s birthday, we went to a restaurant, sat outside, and felt a bit more normal,” he says.
Challenging couldn’t even begin to describe the last year for Meghan N. and her husband, who live in Baltimore. As foster parents to four children under age 4, the couple were forced to isolate their family as much as possible to keep everyone safe.
“The state still required the foster children to have weekly in-person visits, so we’ve been very locked down otherwise to minimize our risk for exposure,” says the 39-year-old. That meant shouldering all of the caregiving responsibilities without any outside help, not seeing family, and even leaving the playground or park when other people showed up.
After nearly a year of intense stress, just getting her and her husband’s vaccine appointments brought Meghan to tears. “Following the vaccination, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders,” she said. She’s less fearful of caseworkers coming into her home and doesn’t worry as much when her foster kids hug their parents during a visit. And she and her husband are more comfortable welcoming new foster placements into the family. “Just to be able to hug them has been a blessing,” she says.
They’re starting to slowly venture out more with the kids too, which has been exciting for everyone. “We went to an outdoor zoo together as a family in March. We were still vigilant about keeping our distance and staying masked, but we finally felt comfortable doing something like this,” says Meghan.
Even though type 2 diabetes put her at high risk for complications from COVID-19, and even though the last year was fraught with anxiety attacks, Marina B. was nervous about getting vaccinated.
“I was one of the ones that wanted to wait. I felt scared of the side effects and the uncertainty over how long the shots would last,” says the 40-year-old, who lives in central New Jersey.
Marina ultimately decided she’d rather have some protection than continue to live in fear, especially with the rise of more highly infectious variants. But the moments leading up to her appointment still felt scary. “Once I got in line I was feeling anxious because the moment was getting closer and it was too late to turn around,” she recalls.
The nerves quickly faded away after her shots. “I felt at ease with everything. There’s no longer crippling anxiety when someone doesn’t have their mask on,” she says. “I’m still wearing my mask, but I’m no longer afraid of the outside world.”
Connecting with strangers has been a major part of Ron B.’s road to recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Chatting with new people was mostly off the table for the past year, but that all changed as soon as he was vaccinated.
“There was a buzz of anticipation in the gymnasium that Saturday,” recalls the 52-year-old from Phoenix. “I started talking, a lot.” Ron suddenly felt compelled to tell a woman about a prior medical injection experience gone bad, where he almost lost consciousness. As more and more people crowded around to listen, Ron could see the medical staff at the vaccination site laughing nervously. “They were telling the crowd, ‘He’s gonna be just fine!’ The last thing they needed was a stampede of hypochondriacs,” Ron says.
And thankfully, he was. After the post-shot waiting period, Ron and his audience of fellow vaccine recipients strolled towards the door, laughing and bumping elbows. “I’ll always remember how a crazy little story like that could bond a bunch of strangers together for a hearty laugh,” he says. That’s the unexpected collective dose of happiness we all felt after our vaccinations.”
As the director of a senior living facility in upstate New York, Seba S. felt the tension and fear that defined the spring of 2020 even more acutely than most. “We were the epicenter of the epicenter,” she says.
Stringent safety protocols were quickly put in place to protect staffers and residents, like mask-wearing, keeping residents in their rooms, and banning visitors. It all helped Seba feel safe—but the psychological effect on her residents hung heavy.
“A lot of our residents are here not for clinical needs but because they love the social interaction,” she says. “So those initial restrictions of not being able to see each other or their family, it was very upsetting.”
Getting vaccinated in January was the beginning of the end of the community’s darkest days. While protocols like masking and distancing are still in place, residents can eat together, have visitors, and participate in small group activities. Seeing how joyful that makes them (and the ability to give her residents hugs) still floods Seba with emotion every day. “I feel amazing. What I perceived as a safe space during the height of the pandemic has truly become a safe space,” she says.
Julie W. doesn’t discount her privilege of being able to work from home through the pandemic. But she still lost a lot in 2020: Time with her son and stepson, a trip to Italy, an in-person celebration for her 60th birthday, and for her pilot husband, his job.
As she got her first dose of vaccine, the anticipation of getting back to normal life made her so happy, she actually burst into song. “I sang Dolly Parton’s ‘Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine’ out loud!” recalls the children’s book author of Cincinnati.
By the time she came back for her second dose, the levity was replaced by a sense of awe and gratitude. “I was emotional and teary-eyed,” she says. “It was a beautiful sight of people coming together to do their part to help the entire world.”
And now, she’s making up for lost time. Her Italy trip is rescheduled for May of 2022. More important, she’s got plans to see her kids for the first time since the pandemic started. “I visited my son in Miami for Mother’s Day and going to L.A. for my stepson’s virtual college graduation!” she says.
Kris M. tried to continue living her life throughout the pandemic. “I still went to work every day. I still went to the grocery store. We traveled to southern California in July for a family vacation. We went to the Grand Canyon in October,” says the 46-year-old of Gilbert, AZ. But as an X-ray technician, the fear of bringing the virus home to her family always lurked in the background.
The fact that the vaccine was so new made Kris a little anxious. But knowing it was her best chance at protecting her family, she scrambled to make an appointment once slots became available from her employer. When that didn’t work out, she decided to be bold. “I ended up just showing up at the facility because my co-workers told me they wouldn’t turn away a healthcare worker,” she says.
After getting fully vaccinated in early February, that nagging fear of getting her loved ones sick finally eased up. “Emotionally it was a big relief,” Kris says. As an added bonus, she’s looking forward to being able to travel again. “Hopefully my husband and I will be able to go outside of the U.S. That’s the biggest thing I want to do.”
After a year spent in lockdown afraid to see her adult children and sanitizing her grocery deliveries, Sabrina B. thought she’d feel immediate relief after getting her second vaccine dose at the end of February. But it took a while for that new sense of safety to even start to kick in—and she’s still adjusting.
“It’s been a tough year for me because I have Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes a compromised immune system,” says the 55-year-old of Raleigh, NC. “I discovered that, despite the two doses, I was still hesitant being around others. I guess months of isolation does make you paranoid.”
A few months in, Sabrina is taking baby steps back into the world. “It’s satisfying to at least be picking out my own groceries again,” she says. She and her boyfriend also have plans to dine at her favorite Italian restaurant for the first time, though her feelings are still mixed. “It will be thrilling, however, it still feels like an obstacle that needs to be overcome.” Best of all, plans are in the works for her children to visit her in the coming weeks.
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