19 minute read

Earlier last week week, I received my first COVID vaccination shot and quite unsurprisingly, it opened a floodgate of emotions for me. Gratitude. Relief. Shock. Pure unbridled joy. Humility. Unmistakable sadness. And even more gratitude. Since I figured I couldn't be the only person still processing how they feel about their vaccination (and perhaps more importantly, still processing how they feel about all of 2020), I opened up the stage for you all to submit your vaccination story — the idea being so that we could all collectively peek into each other's minds and hearts at what we hope is the bookend to a year that rocked us all to our core. All submissions below are anonymous and many I couldn't help but cry after reading. OK, I'll confess. I cried the entire time while reading these and then again, while compiling them here.

Moreover, there are quite a few even that punched me straight back to March of 2020, and I think we'd all do right to remember how we felt at that time. I don't say that to encourage us to feel controlled by the trauma of it but more so that we honor it to ensure the trauma wasn't in vain. Enough from me though — here are your vaccination stories that you so graciously shared with me. May they be a testament to what we endured, how we carried each other, how a great deal of brave men and women carried us all and just how incredible science can be when we trust in it.

1. "I'm a health care worker in NYC so I got my first dose a few months ago, but cried after it happened. Mostly in disbelief that there was finally a light at the end of a very dark and traumatic tunnel but also because I felt a sense of hope for the first time in over a year. Having to go almost two years without seeing my family, living alone in a studio apartment and watching people die daily and others not taking COVID seriously really took a toll on my mental health. It's so exciting to see everyone getting vaccinated and to watch the city slowly come back to life again. It feels like we are so close to the finish line. I cannot wait to hug people again, my patients included."

2. "The emotions that overcame me were quite surprising. I think we have all tried to be so strong while also trying so hard to stay healthy. I have fallen to my knees countless times praying for all those affected — physically, emotionally, financially — from day one. We are so many days out now and so much in this world has changed. But finally, all the change is headed in one direction, in the right one. We all remain unchanged after this. And we will all come out better and stronger. Still praying for all those we have lost and for all those who have experienced such loss. The lady in line in front of me hugged the person who administered the vaccine. I felt the very same way and wanted to, but was still reluctant to hug anyone. It's a great feeling knowing I can finally hug others. Life is too short not to..."

3. "Like many in 2020, I was praying for a hopeful situation to fight COVID. As the possibility of having a vaccine ready in the same year was increasing, I admittedly was one of the naysayers about getting it when it would be made available.

Call it culture caution knowing Blacks and other POC haven't had the best historical experience when it comes to new medical practices and having things injected into our bodies. But after doing some research and hearing from friends who are doctors, I felt more at ease to get vaccinated.

Though I had been uncertain, I have a precondition and have been lucky enough to not get COVID, but knew I needed to ensure my best health. So I finally decided that I would get vaccinated and I'm proud to say that I'm one shot in with one more to go.

I surprisingly got emotional and teared up after my first dose because I felt that my small act for myself, is also for the greater safety of everyone else and I'd be on the road to connect with friends, family and my godfather who I haven't seen in over a year. Shot number two is on deck for Friday and I'm very much ready!"

4. "In 2020, my husband and I planned to have a baby but once COVID hit, we decided to put that on hold. When we both got out first dose of the vaccine last week, I got emotional because I've been missing my parents a lot but also because this means we can resume family planning with a bit more confidence knowing that we have a layer of protection. Once we are both vaccinated, we are going to start trying again!"

5. "I work in marketing/communications for a hospital. We held a media event when the first shots were given to frontline healthcare workers back in December. I got to witness the first wave of doctors and other care team members who had spent the last several months caring for those in our COVID-19 units. It was humbling, inspiring and uplifting. After watching dozens of doctors line up to receive their shots, I had no doubt in my mind that I would accept the first opportunity to receive a vaccine."

6. "I'm not yet eligible in California. But the other week, my boyfriend got an email at 12:55 about a pop-up clinic run by the county one town over doing walk ups with extra shots. I had just finished a 30 minute spin bike ride, dripping sweat and gross. Ran out the door and got to the site by 1:23pm. We waited in line for two hours not knowing how many shots they had if we'd get one. We both did. I started crying in the parking lot from relief. Seeing family in three weeks for the first time in almost two years."

7. "We flew to Oklahoma (where both my husband and I are from) because my husband is Cherokee and the Cherokee Nation had vaccine availability very early on. We got vaccinated on March 18th and shortly after, they opened up availability to all Oklahomans. I felt really emotional for many reasons, mostly because we have actually stayed home this entire time. But there was also a layer of history that made me feel emotional, grateful and a little guilty. I, a white woman, was vaccinated by a group of people who had every right to withhold their resources or charge for shots and they didn't. It was a really beautiful thing."

8. "I got mine last week at the same hospital, my father-in-law passed away at last year due to COVID. It was almost a year to the date of his death. He got sick in the very beginning of the pandemic and it was so unexpected because we didn't know anything about the virus. It was something positive to think about a year after his death, that in that time a vaccine that could keep us safe was developed and we got to get it. So, so grateful for the vaccine."

9. "I was actually able to get my first shop in January and second in early February. My boyfriend is a teacher and made his appointment at the Javits Center as soon as he was eligible. At the suggestion of a friend, I went to his appointment with him and asked if there was any way I could get one too and they said yes! At first, I didn't tell anyone because I felt like I cheated or somehow took a shot away from others. But after talking to some friends in healthcare, they all reassured me that the goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible and I didn't need to worry. So I've come around now to just feeling very grateful that I had that opportunity a couple of months ago. I feel fortunate that I haven't had to deal with the stress of finding an appointment and proud of the scientists that made it happen. I didn't think I'd be vaccinated until end of summer at the earliest so I'm feeling all the hope and joy that 30% of New Yorkers have had their first shot and that we'll be back to some semblance of normal perhaps sooner than originally expected."

10. "I received my first vaccination in Chicago at Northwestern Hospital. As a pregnant woman with asthma, I have been extremely nervous about the last year. As I was high risk before and now even at a higher risk with my baby. I was having a difficult time deciding if this was the right choice to get vaccinated while pregnant. I've received lots of unsolicited advice, but after my own research and consulting with my doctors, I'm happy I moved forward with my decision. As I sat down to receive my first vaccine, the nurse asked me how I felt to which I replied, "Excited, but nervous because I'm pregnant!" She said she was pregnant and already had both shots. I completely felt my body relax and knew I was making the right choice for me and my family."

11. "Mostly, I was very excited to get the vaccine. As I arrived at the site, I got a bit more nervous. —the only reason being I was hoping I wouldn't have adverse reaction [...] My most memorable moment with the staff was probably when I was talking to the practitioner administering the shot. She asked which arm I preferred and in turn, I asked her which was more popular, if any. She suggested my non-dominant arm because soreness at the injection site is one of the most common side effects. [...] Ever since things shut down, I haven't been able to see my grandmother. Speaking through the phone and email is great, she isn't super into social media and even refuses to get a Facebook but nothing beats giving her a hug and telling her I love her. I can't wait to be fully vaccinated so I can do that again."

12. "I've been struggling with agoraphobia and OCD during this pandemic to the point where it was hard to leave my house. It's a tough position to know you're being mentally "irrational" being afraid to leave the house while simultaneously told to stay at home. This illness got me a vaccine recommendation, outside at a hospital full of people. Two masks, a face shield, gloves and a panic attack later where I was in line at a mass vaccine site waiting in tears, freaked out to be around more people than I had in a year. As soon as the needle was in my arm, it was relief. I literally pictured the sirens that had been on loop in my mind, turning off. Overwhelming gratitude doesn't even begin to describe it."

13. "My grandfather received a life-saving kidney transplant in 2017 and COVID was especially scary for him because of how immunocompromised from he was. My husband is also immunocompromised from his medication for Crohn's disease. We didn't get to see my grandparents at all really in 2020 because of COVID — they live on the other side of the country and were really hunkered down. Well, we had to fly out last month because my grandfather ended up contracting COVID from a home healthcare worker and he ended up passing away. Not even two weeks later, my husband had his first vaccine appointment. I cried so much on the drive because it meant I'd never again have to worry about losing him to COVID the way I lost my grandfather. I prayed every day for this kind of safety and I ended up getting my own first shot on Monday. Every single day I wake up and say something to my grandpa in my head, just a little, "I love you" to fight the survivor's guilt. I am incredibly thankful to be alive and that my husband is safe. This pandemic has finally taken something truly meaningful from me (whatever about social plans or unemployment — I care about our lives more) and losing my grandfather has been the worst thing to ever happen to me. I am so thankful to modern medicine that I will never, ever have to experience that kind of pain of watching him or anyone else I know die of COVID ever again."

14. "I work for a vaccine site, so I see a lot of emotional responses and general faith in humanity kind of thing. Specially during the first few weeks and months, when it was only for seniors and those with underlying conditions. Every day we went to the site, we were thanked for everything we do, you could see people really getting teary eyed while waiting during observation. There was a sense of community and family, too. The craziest and most proof that people want the vaccine and are happy to get it was during one of the snowstorms and icy conditions the next day...we didn't close but we expected a lot of people to cancel. Turns out, out of the 2,000 scheduled, about 1,700 still came! I kind of have mixed feelings about that though because I feel like that also shows desperation. It's been a roller coaster for so many of our county's seniors. I'm a social worker, that's why I work for the vaccine site and the work is not done for making the vaccines more accessible to the most vulnerable people."

15. "My 16 year old, who made her own decision to be vaccinated, had her first dose of Pfizer the other day. I felt such joyful, expansive tears in my heart. Such awe in and gratitude for the scientists, doctors, nurses, volunteers and politicians who made it possible in such a relatively short period of time. I definitely felt the awesome weight of participating in a significant moment in human history. I felt so proud of my "maturing before my eyes" 16 year-old daughter. I felt such warmth and gratitude for the woman who gave my daughter her shot, how clearly and completely she explained the possible side effects and what to do if she experienced them. She was so calm and kind. It was a completely joy-filled experience."

16. "The day I got my first dose felt miraculous. I couldn't believe my family and I had gotten through this — though separately — unscathed. After all of our sacrifice and quiet moments, it felt like a gift and a reward to receive the vaccine. "It's a miracle!" I would shout to everyone; the receptionist, my colleagues and the doctor administering the dose. The feeling I feel now that my loved ones are fully vaccinated is indescribable. I am so grateful to our essential workers, the scientists and those who, like us, sacrificed so much to bring us to this opportunity."

17. "I had an appointment for 11:15pm on a Saturday when the Javits Center was doing Johnson & Johnson overnight. It was the most exciting Saturday night I'd had in a year! I was in sweats but changed into *real pants* and picked a top with easy arm access, washed my hair and put on makeup so the vaccination site staff would see me at my best. I cried more when I made the appointment, but teared up on the way there thinking of how this moment was a culmination of so much hard work by our healthcare and science heroes."

18. "Like a ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. Also, felt like a celebrity who just won an award. The nurses/workers at the Long Island City vaccine center were all smiles and some even congratulated me as I exited the site. Overall, grateful."

19. "I've been taking care of my 92 year-old grandmother over the past year while working a full time job. Trying to explain to her what is happening and why we must do certain things but can't do others is a relationship with her I never thought I'd have. It also made me extra careful because I didn't want to get her sick, so I gave up a lot of time with friends (safely), exercising, any sort of personal time because she needed to go for drives. We're both vaccinated and I teared up getting my shot because for the first time, it felt like there would be hope."

20. "I've been struggling career-wise since I graduated college and had absolutely no passion for my job and was (still am) almost every day at work. Having a degree in biology, I've always considered going back to school to be a nurse but never acted on it because it would take too long. After another soul crushing week at work, I got my first vaccine on Friday afternoon and the vibes in the room were so uplifting I could've cried from happiness. The nurse that gave me my vaccine was the same age as me and was incredibly kind and excited to give me my shot. I knew in that moment I had to do what she was doing, not in a lab (I work in pharma) but in real life, helping people. A few weeks ago, when I got my second shot, it was given by the same nurse and I told her how much she inspired me and she started to tear up and I did, too. We've all been through so much the past year and I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I enrolled in summer school for pre-requisites!"

"It's a great feeling knowing I can finally hug others. Life is too short not to..."

21. "I was able to make appointments for my parents, a few of their coworkers, then eventually my partner and myself! We were lucky enough to have appointments within 15 minutes of each other so we got to the wait together before and after. As we start there in the CVS after our first shot, I swear I could've cried. We just stared at each other in disbelief and pure joy. It really was a life changing moment. There's so much hope now that I have it! Also, I get my second shot tomorrow, a day before my birthday! Best present ever."

22. "I live in Poland where the pandemic hit hard. On top of that, I was pregnant and went to the hospital to give birth during the "hardest" lockdown in my country. So when I heart that they were going to vaccinate teachers (yep, my profession) I was thrilled. However, only working ones and I was on maternity leave...Fortunately, they have changed it and I could take Astrazeneca, maybe not my choice of vaccine but still better than nothing. Currently, I'm 9 weeks after the first shot and it's OK. Waiting for the second dose."

23. "My vaccine experience was pretty boring honestly. I waited in the Walgreens line, got the shot and left. I didn't have side effects outside of a sore arm for a day which I'm grateful for but I was definitely expecting to burst into tears and just...didn't. I think it'll hit me at another time but right now, I almost feel too close for comfort, like someone's going to pull the rug out from under me. Like it's not quite real yet. Don't get me wrong, I'm so grateful and know how lucky I am, but it's more of a quiet appreciation than a big, dramatic feeling."

24. "I volunteer at a local rural vaccination center in the UK and the overwhelming majority feel the same way you and others do — amazement at the efficiency and simplicity of the process, gratitude for being called up to receive theirs and hope for the future. At our center, patients are vaccinated in groups and that makes it feel even more of a shared experience with everyone moving forward together. I feel fortunate to be able to help people take a step closer to their future and to be in a position to contribute towards making sure as many people as possible come out of this alive and healthy."

25. "I'm a city employee (not in healthcare). I did multiple shifts at a city-run vaccination site downtown and got my first shot at the end of my first shift. It was incredibly emotion and rewarding to be vaccinated and also to play a small role in helping a few thousand people get theirs!"

26. "It hit me near the midtown tunnel on my drive home. I saw the NYC skyline and cried."

27. "Drove two hours for the first one. Did it for my mom who didn't make it to see 2021."

28. "It was so surreal!I had to drive 65 miles round trip and I got it in my car. (I live in Georgia.)"

29. "I showed up bra-less and with a thankful heart! I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel."

30. "I'm a teacher and when I got my first one, the pharmacist said it had been a fun day because all day she'd only given shots to teachers and everyone was so happy. She celebrated with each of us!"

31. "I screamed to the doctor, "THIS IS A MIRACLE!" and I cried."

32. "As soon as I received the final shot, I started tearing up. I knew the sacrifices, the stress, the death of others and the sorrow in their families. But I didn't realize how much I was grinning until the last shot was done. Over a year of bated breath — an exhale of emotional release."

33. "I teared up when I was waiting in line and then during my 15 minutes waiting time. Hope!"

34. "I didn't want to do it until I decided to fly to visit my sister in the United States so I had do."

35. "It was the best, most reassuring feeling. It felt like progress and one step closer to normalcy."

36. "Shock and giddiness that I finally actually got one!"

37. "A kind volunteer saw that I was pregnant and let me skip the line at my second appointment."

38. "Relieved I will have some freedom during maternity leave since I had zero while I was pregnant."

39. "Surreal, happy, but also kept waiting for the orchestral score or a sunbeam to shine through."

40. "I felt so lucky and grateful in that moment, to make any contribution towards ending this awful pandemic. So many people cannot yet access the vaccine and we are so lucky in America to be able to get it now. I only wish everyone who was eligible would get the shot!"

41. "As a teacher, I felt relief, happiness and a bit of moral superiority."

42. "I cried on the Uber ride to get my first shot. Looking out the window and silently reflecting on everything I'd (we'd) been through this past year. A culmination of everything an overwhelming sense of gratitude and hope! Also, teared up after the nurse was done and put the bandage on. We made eye contact and shared a moment — it felt like a shared victory. So thankful for the work of so many who carried us on their backs through this thing."

43. "At Moscone Center in San Francisco, volunteers were smiling and happy. At the exits, they played pop music and people were dancing and giving socially distanced high fives and elbow hellos. And they said "Congratulations on your vaccination" or "It's a big day." and it felt like a big, happy day indeed. It was a very emotional and inspiring experience (made me want to volunteer but alas, everyone had the same idea and there were no volunteer slots available)."

"Drove two hours for the first one. Did it for my mom who didn't make it to see 2021."

44. "I did not expect to get emotional because I was more excited than anything, but as I was walking up to the Javits Center this morning, I started tearing up. And then when I saw the signs they're scheduled to vaccinate some 9,300 New Yorkers that day, it got me again. I knew returning to NYC was the right thing to do, mainly because I missed it like crazy the last five months, but also because I knew how well they were going to handle the vaccine rollout and today moved like clockwork. In and out in 30 minutes (because of the observation period). I know we will have a long way to go but it feels like there's actually a light at the end of the tunnel now."

45. "I was living in Atlanta and moving to NYC in two days. Alabama opened up eligibility to lawyers and did not have any residency requirements so I found an appointment at a CVS in a very random small town about two hours away for the next day. The nurse and three other people in line were also from Atlanta. I (luckily!) was able to make an appointment for my second dose in NYC at a CVS in Times Square (of all places). It was very surreal. I felt utter excitement getting my first dose but the second felt much more solemn...an eerily quiet Times Square outside but I was surrounded by New Yorkers that lived through an unimaginable year. When the nurse put the bandaid on with a cheerful "Congratulations!" I started to cry. I felt joy, relief, sadness over everyone that didn't make it to this point and such an overwhelming sense of gratitude."

46. "My aunt who heads the general physician department at a state hospital in the suburbs of Chicago worked four weeks straight at one point last year. She finally had a long weekend and the doctor in charge that weekend was diagnosed with COVID and my aunt aunt went back into work for another weekend. Two days off at a stretch was vacation to her. In December, when she got her first shot, I was so relieved for her and her family. Last Tuesday, when I got my first shot, I was excited but so relieved that health care workers have one less person (two including my husband) to worry about. I called my aunt saying I'll visit her this summer and she was so excited, I could hear it her in voice. I can't wait to see this incredible woman."

47. "My parents and I got our vaccines on my dad's birthday — a year later from the day we had our last family celebration together indoors before everything went wrong. I remember we all felt so unsure about things and were trying to get my sister and cousin flights home from London where they were studying. I couldn't believe that exactly a year later we would be getting the vaccine and I definitely didn't realize how much immediate relief it would provide. My parents got their shots before me and as I drove to the clinic, I cried in relief. The past year has been filled with anxiety, especially because I live with my parents right now and never wanted them to get sick, so to know they were safe and protected was the most amazing gift. I am so grateful for everyone who made the vaccines possible and I hope that we can all start living fuller lives again soon!"

48. "I got my vaccination at Javits Center I told the nurse I was nervous and that I get queasy from blood/needles. The doctor came over and suggested laying me down for the shot instead. They changed the conversation while I was getting the shot and were so kind. I lay there for about 10 minutes and the nurse walked me out with a bottle of water and a sticker in my hand! The military was intimidating but the nurses were so kind of another level."

49."I was so grateful to everyone, thanking all the volunteers individually. They were so happy for the gratitude! It was beyond efficient too as everything in Hong Kong is. The gal who gave me my shot complimented me on my perfume and looked it up then and there. Her name is Painsy. I hope I get her again on Monday. She can't get the vaccine because of allergies."

50. "Since January, I've been working a few days a week at several of the NYC-run vaccination sites. My most memorable experience was in the beginning of January when the vaccine was first made available to people 75+. Family after family would carefully and slowly walk their elderly matriarch, patriarch, great aunts and uncles, parents and other loved ones — sometimes with a cane, sometimes locked arm in arm to their vaccine table. Though each family was different, the feeling they emanated after the vaccine was administered was the same — like a thousand pounds of weight was lifted off of each family members shoulders. Their precious and vulnerable loved one was finally protected. We would see hundreds of families in a day and it made the vaccination room (a converted middle school cafeteria) feel overwhelmingly electric with a sense of relief and hope."

51. "I got vaccinated today! It was exciting and I was a little nervous, not about getting it but more about the potential side effects. It was quick, very organized and I definitely was grateful. I also made sure to thank each staff member I came in contact with. And when I sat with my administering nurse, I learned that her name was also Sandy! We chatted about how rate it is to meet other Sandys and before I knew it, I was done."

52. "One memorable moment was that this stab actually bled; the first dose didn't. It was unexpected for both me and the pharmacist who administered the vaccine so we both sort of made the same shocked expression!"

53. "I received an appointment for the Moderna shot in a town about 15 minutes from where I live. I was over the moon while also being nervous — of needles, potential side effects and a feeling of "what if this doesn't work and we continue living this way?" The minute I found out I was getting a Moderna shot (or the Dolly shot), I burst into tears of joy and optimism but also so much gratitude! For those scientists who got us to this point. Those who funded it to this point. The nurses and the staff hosting the vaccine clinics.

For my second dose, I wore sequins. I mean, it only felt appropriate as a tribute to Dolly and a tribute to the hope of a new day ahead. I've never felt more appreciative of modern medicine or universal health care than I did while receiving my second shot."

54. "My vaccine experience was uneventful — Pfizer at JAVax Center — minimum side effects. What was special about the experience were the National Guard personnel stationed there. I thanked each one for their service — they were kind, efficient and thoughtful. I was told there were no stickers left when asked for one. As I was about to leave a young woman — Sargent Giles — came up to me: she had located a sticker since I seemed so disappointed and handed it to me. A small but signifiant act of kindness, which somehow represented "we're all in this together."

Allie Provost