Coronavirus

A local grandmother recounts her journey to get a COVID-19 vaccine

“You can’t wait, you have to go forward, but sometimes you need help doing that.”

A sign directs motorists to a "by appointment only" drive up COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up by the New Hampshire National Guard in the parking lot of Exeter, N.H., High School, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Exeter.

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When Mary, 69, became eligible for a vaccine appointment in Massachusetts she says she spent an entire day on the Mass.gov website trying to secure an appointment, in addition to calling a local Walgreens, where her husband was able to get vaccinated. Her husband, 75, was already fully vaccinated and she was eager to join him, wanting to spend more time with family again.

Located in South Boston, she said location wasn’t an issue, and that she was willing to drive longer distances if it meant getting the shot. “My husband and I had already decided that no matter where they where if there was a shot available, if it was Springfield or Greenfield or wherever that we were just going to take it,” she said.

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So when she received a confirmation email that an appointment was booked for her at a senior center in Greenfield, she thought she was good to go.

A sign directs motorists to a “by appointment only” drive up COVID-19 vaccine clinic set up by the New Hampshire National Guard in the parking lot of Exeter, N.H., High School, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Exeter.

On the day of her scheduled appointment, Mary and her husband drove two hours to Greenfield, only to find that the facility was closed for the day.

“They had obviously been giving shots there because there were signs up around the building. … So we called one of the numbers they were showing on the door and finally got someone who said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand why that happened because we’re not giving shots today…the state just rents the facility from us to do the shots…'”

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This is just one example of the obstacles eligible elderly residents have faced trying to book vaccine appointments in Massachusetts since the start of the rollout. Some, unable to drive long distances, are limited to fewer availabilities closer to home.

After Mary returned home, she called 211 and was told that she should’ve received another email, redirecting her to say that site was not going to be open on that day. But that email never came through.

Fortunately, she says, she called her primary care provider following the mixup and was able to schedule a shot for her first dose of the vaccine. She wrote, “When I returned from my fruitless road trip, I emailed my PCP. The next day she called me and asked if I could immediately get myself over to Tufts, that there were extra doses available of the Moderna vaccine. I got over there and received my shot, very happily!”

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Her second dose was scheduled for Friday.

Boston.com spoke with Mary about her experience and what it means to be able to get vaccinated.

What will it mean to you once you are fully vaccinated?

It’s really all about family. I mean, seeing my family. We’ve seen them in driveways and that kind of thing. I have five grandchildren and I have one new grandchild that I’ve seen very little of. … It means everything not to lose the time with them.

What would it mean to you to have your family or friends fully vaccinated, too?

Oh, it means everything. My husband’s a retired physician. My daughter is a doctor. They’re all very much about following the rules and keeping everybody safe.

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What about this process do you wish was different, for you or others trying to get an appointment?

I’ve followed other states — we lived in New Hampshire for most of our married life, we’ve only been here [in Massachusetts] four or five years — and all of our friends who live there have [had] a relatively easy rollout as far as getting their shots through the state of New Hampshire. … The oldest people came first, they were the ones having the hardest time making it happen without having anyone to help them get through it. I just can’t imagine what they must have felt.

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What do you hope for once we’re past the pandemic?

It’s hard to say, because I don’t know how long this is going to take. It seems to me that herd immunity is going to be difficult to achieve with so many refusing to be vaccinated. … I’m already seeing people not wearing masks that I think had been wearing masks. So it makes me concerned. … I have a hard time picturing a complete return to normalcy. But I am thrilled that children are getting to go back to school. I think as I’ve seen my own grandchildren struggling not being with their friends and not having a normal life. The older ones I think have it harder because they recognize it, where the younger ones, the littler ones, wearing masks has probably been easier than it has been for adults. … I used to think it was science fiction when they used to come out with movies about this type of thing, but not anymore. You have to pay attention.

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Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience being vaccinated?

It’s important to recognize that there are people [who] can’t get through [to schedule an appointment] in the way they are being told to get through. Where do they go? When the 211 line isn’t helpful either, then what happens? And [what] if they don’t have a family member? I know other people in my generation who had their children do it, or they had somebody in the healthcare field help them. But you need to have someone guide you if you can’t get through because it’s just so frustrating. You just have to be persistent and be your own advocate. I think that’s true in just about everything, about being your own advocate. You can’t wait, you have to go forward, but sometimes you need help doing that.

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