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Area seniors elated after being fully vaccinated: ‘It was liberating’

  • Greenfield resident Bob Varnon does laps around the gymnasium at Franklin County’s YMCA in Greenfield on Monday, trying to get in his daily steps. Varnon has received his first COVID-19 vaccine, and is set to get his second dose this week. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Twins Patricia Lanfair of Turners Falls and Priscilla LaFonde of Greenfield participate in a seated weight class at the gymnasium at Franklin County’s YMCA in Greenfield on Monday STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2021 4:55:20 PM

For the first time in over a year, Nicole Graves plans to sit down for lunch with a friend.

“That will be a first,” she said. “Nobody has been in my house yet.”

They’ll be eating outside, she noted — but mostly because she expects the weather to be nice.

“I’m loosening my restrictions slowly,” said Graves, 74. “I don’t want to go overboard.”

Graves is among the fully vaccinated seniors who are beginning to enjoy activities they did pre-pandemic, such as shopping, exercising and visiting friends, but with safety modifications.

On March 13, Graves was vaccinated through Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. She received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“It was liberating,” she said. “I was feeling overjoyed. You still have to wear a mask and social distance, but you feel as though you’re not as much in jeopardy, that you’re not just as much at risk because of your age.”

Since becoming fully vaccinated — she waited an extra week than required, she said — she’s started to do more of her own grocery shopping. Before, she had a friend drop off groceries to her home in South Deerfield.

“Maybe in a few weeks, I will try to check out the gym, where I used to go three times a week,” Graves said. “It’s not a main priority, but I do want to check it out — to see if it’s OK to do a little bit for mental health, to get some exercise.”

Graves said with the weather getting warmer, she’s looking forward to seeing more faces around her neighborhood, especially now that she, and many of her neighbors, are vaccinated.

Although Graves was successful — after weeks of trying — at getting an appointment on her own accord, many of her friends and neighbors were able to get appointments with the help of the South County Senior Center in South Deerfield, whether by providing links and information for signing up on social media, or by signing up for seniors on their behalf.

“I didn’t get help directly from them, but … for five people I know personally, (the Senior Center) was instrumental in getting them appointments,” Graves said.

Since vaccines opened to seniors, the Senior Center has fielded thousands of calls from residents, struggling to book an appointment for themselves or frustrated with the state’s online booking system, according to Christina Johnson, director of the South County Senior Center. Some who called lacked the technology to book their own appointments.

“It was really hard,” Johnson said. “There were people who called in tears because they were so frustrated, especially when they thought it was something they were doing wrong. We explained that … hundreds of people we were talking to were having the same problems, and that it would be better.”

All together, the Senior Center has booked roughly 700 appointments for the individuals.

“We have gotten back to every single person that has ever called, or was ever on a waitlist,” Johnson said. “We make sure we don’t leave anyone behind. Sometimes that means we’re calling people like a month after they were added to a waitlist, and they’ve long since gotten a vaccine somewhere else.”

The endeavor has meant spending late nights catching up on work that would otherwise been done during the day, she said. When vaccines opened for seniors ages 65 and up, she was there until past midnight. It’s became more manageable since then, but the Senior Center continues to take calls daily.

It’s worth it though, Johnson said, to know the seniors are glad to be vaccinated.

“We didn’t have to do a thing,” said Ruth Sadowski, whose appointment at Tree House Brewing in South Deerfield was secured by the Senior Center. “The South County Senior Center did an excellent job.”

Sadowski, who got her second dose of Moderna on March 25, said now that she’s fully vaccinated, she feels a little more at ease.

“We were in the 75 and older group, and I think it was very important that older people got vaccinated first,” she said.

Another South Deerfield resident the Senior Center was able to secure an appointment for was Tom Stone.

“I wasn’t able to get a place,” Stone said. “I was going around and around. The Senior Center, they got me on a list.”

He said someone from the Senior Center called him at around 11 a.m. one morning and asked when he could get to Tree House Brewing, where vaccine distribution was taking place.

“I said, ‘10 minutes,’” he recalled. “I was very happy to have gotten one when I did.”

Stone had his second dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 25.

Stone said he’s been “locked up” one way or another for the last three years as a result of health issues and two major heart surgeries.

“And then the coronavirus came through,” he said. “It’s been enlightening to be able to get out and do things again.”

His wife also got a vaccine with help from the Senior Center.

Now that he’s vaccinated, Stone said, he will able to see his sisters again. Plus, one of his daughters who he hasn’t seen in over a year is coming to visit in a couple of weeks.

“My sisters, I have one in California and one on the other end of the state — we can get together now,” he said.

Graves, too, hopes that by the fall, provided the borders to Canada are open, she’ll get to reunite with family members she hasn’t seen in over a year.

“I haven’t been there since Christmas 2019,” she said. “The borders are closed, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to celebrate my 75th birthday with my family up there, maybe in the fall, and maybe all the other holidays we missed.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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