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On 13 March last year, Ignacia Fulcher went into quarantine. She wore only N95 masks, ordered groceries online, and had no in-person contact with friends. All of this was necessary to keep her high-risk family of five – who, between them, suffer from moderate asthma, sickle-cell anemia, type 1 diabetes and medicine allergies – from potentially catching Covid-19. Rules that some might label excessive became normal for people like Fulcher, who never once broke her family’s agreed-upon guidelines in a year.
So when she received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month, Fulcher, a 28-year-old commerce editor, felt an immediate sense of relief. “It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I still have to be careful – not to be dramatic, but now knowing that I most likely won’t die after going to the grocery store or nail salon is reassuring.”
For her, the vaccine is not a free pass, but at least a light at the end of the tunnel – after a pretty bleak winter, which meant weeks of staying indoors, no dating, working from home and only socializing with friends over FaceTime. New York’s cold and dark weather only made things worse for Fulcher, who has seasonal depression. With the socializing limits brought on by Covid, and an ADHD diagnosis that had previously been masked by the structure of office life, she was left feeling overwhelmed.
Of course she is looking forward to the same things as everyone else (“traveling overseas, working in the office and visiting super crowded bars, after we reach the vaccination cap needed for herd immunity”), but for now, she can at least finally engage in a more humble activity. “I [can] be social with my vaccinated friends,” Fulcher said. “I personally can’t wait to take my mother out to eat on her birthday at the end of March with my sisters. It’ll be a celebration of life, time past and new beginnings.”
That celebration has perhaps come earlier than at first imagined: at the beginning of the pandemic, the received wisdom was that it would take years to get a vaccine – as has previously been the case. With the rising death toll, mass unemployment and the political polarization over basic safety measures like wearing masks, the fact that the vaccine has been made available more quickly than any in US history has perhaps been overshadowed.
The US has administered more than 110m doses of coronavirus vaccines – with almost 65% of the senior population having benefited – meaning US vaccinations far outstrip those of some of its European neighbors.
Ginger Goral, 66, a retired mother in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, is channeling a shared hopefulness that better days are on the horizon.
As the mother of a 10-year-old, Goral has had to transform her house into a classroom while her son attends school online. The transition has been challenging, but Goral has employed a tutor to help monitor her son’s schoolwork, which has had positive effects on his performance. She is grateful for the extra help but still pines for a more child-friendly environment for him. “He misses his friends, and children need to be able to run around outside,” says Goral – whose fully vaccinated ex-husband allows their son to visit with one family friend every other weekend.
But virtual learning hasn’t been as immense of an adjustment as living in an anti-mask community during a global pandemic. “I’ve been dismayed by the amount of fervor for Trump, and Covid [denial] is real,” says Goral, who says she hasn’t set foot inside a store since the pandemic started because people in her town often refuse to wear a mask, despite a state mandate.
“If I lived in an area where people believed in Covid, I would have felt way more comfortable going into stores with my mask,” she adds.
Goral, who has been limiting her interactions with people, ordering food at curbside restaurants, and only going to stores to pick up packages outside, will receive her second dose of the Moderna vaccine at the end of March and is excited to browse through shops again without fearing that she’ll head home sick.
“Of course I’ll still be masked and everything, but I’ll just feel more free,” she says.
She is most looking forward to seeing her 32-year-old daughter, who will be vaccine-eligible in the upcoming weeks. “I can’t wait to hug my daughter. I’ve been unable to even see her because the Covid cases in my area have been so high,” she says. “Even with the masks and social distancing, it [has been] too risky.”
After friends died from Covid complications, and witnessing her town’s lack of precaution toward the virus, Goral has considered moving. Multiple incidents of negligence, including an interaction with an unmasked police officer at her doorstep and a canvasser at her local vaccine clinic who also refused to wear a mask, provided Goral with clarity. “It’s just not a place I’m sure I want to be any more. This pandemic has given me a new perspective of where I’m living,” she says.
For those who moved to new cities during or right before lockdown, adjusting to a new location has been equally difficult. Making friends and exploring local spots isn’t nearly as simple when there’s a risk associated with it, but Matthew Wettig is looking forward to seeing more of Portland now he is fully vaccinated.
“Having only lived here for six months before Covid, it has definitely slowed the ability to solidify new connections in somewhere that I already am not the most familiar with,” he says. The 25-year-old medical data analyst was eligible for the Pfizer vaccine after a brain aneurysm stroke 12 years ago and developing an auto-immune disease. Falling under the high-risk category, Wettig has spent most of the pandemic alone, aside from some visits with his partner, who lives with her high-risk mother.
Even with antibodies, Wettig remains cautious about Covid, and doesn’t predict his daily life will change much until there’s more concrete data on rates of transmission to other people who are unvaccinated, and protection against new variants and strains. “I am kind of a bit skeptical surrounding the newness of everything,” says Wettig.
Staying indoors a bit longer isn’t too much of a social issue for Wettig, who classifies himself as an introvert who is OK with isolation, but the fear of contracting Covid has subsided a bit.
“The moment I got that second dose, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. To some extent it provides a little bit more peace of mind,” he explains.
Like Fulcher and Goral, Wettig is optimistic, and feeling relieved about his newly vaccinated status, but continued uncertainty has caused the three to turn safety precautions into routine practices. Earlier in the pandemic, talk about a potential vaccine rarely involved speed – but nearly a year after the virus resulted in close to 538,000 American deaths, three separate authorized vaccines have allowed the US to take a lead in controlling the spread.
The long and complex process of research, development and testing for 10 to 15 years was quickly dismantled after the Pfizer vaccine received authorization for emergency use just 336 days after the coronavirus’s genetic blueprint was shared online by Chinese scientists. It’s the quickest a vaccine has ever been developed and distributed – and with such speed and newness comes valid uncertainty.
As Fulcher laid out so candidly: “We all now know how easy it is to contract something. I don’t see the majority of us just returning to our old ways that easily. It’s more so that we don’t want some other virus to hit us this hard again in the future.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘I can’t wait to hug my daughter’: how it feels to finally get the vaccine | Coronavirus