“I was on a treasure hunt,” said Wayne Martin.
For weeks, the 76-year-old Rockville resident searched high and low for the elusive COVID vaccine. He pre-registered for appointments on every website he could find. But time after time, any openings he received emails for were filled by the time he clicked the link.
“So for weeks I could not find any vaccine anywhere. It was very frustrating.”
Finally, Martin was able to book an appointment through Medstar Health and got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine in February.
“And I felt like I won a lottery.”
Martin is part of a growing number of Jewish seniors in Greater Washington who have been vaccinated against COVID. But despite gaining immunity, life has remained mostly the same for Martin and others interviewed for this article.
“We still wear masks when we go out. We follow the protocol. Whatever Dr. Fauci says I listen to. He’s the one person I trust,” Martin said. “So I would say, for me, there’s less fear. There’s less apprehension and less anxiety.”
Judy Frumkin, 75, of Silver Spring also feels a sense of relief after getting vaccinated.
“When it was so bad, and there were no vaccinations, you looked at other people and there was a sense of fear,” Frumkin said. “And I don’t feel that at all anymore. It’s really nice.”
Frumkin also struggled to get the vaccine. She initially tried to get it in Montgomery County. But the vaccination sites ran out by the time she arrived.
“Holy Cross [Hospital] would open up at 4 o’clock for their appointments,” Frumkin said. “And by the time I got in at 4:01 or 4:02, they were all gone.”
So in January, Frumkin drove to Baltimore to get her first shot at Medstar Good Samaritan Hospital, which she chose because it “has good parking.”
Albert Gonzales, 66, of Silver Spring drove to Six Flags America in Bowie to get the Pfizer vaccine. The last time he visited the amusement park was when his kids were little. But in February, he made the 45-minute drive to the mass vaccination site set up there. Gonzales said his arm felt sore for a few days, but that was it.
Arlene Polangin, 81, of Bethesda said her legs became achy after receiving her first dose of the Moderna vaccine, from her hip sockets all the way down to her feet. The ache went away after two days. After her second shot, Polangin got a splitting headache and full body aches.
“And then I woke up on the third day and I was fine,” she said.
Polangin is still avoiding large crowds, but she does feel comfortable gathering in small groups. A few weeks ago, she dined at a restaurant with her son and hugged him, two things she hadn’t done in more than a year.
“It was a mechaya. I felt alive,” Polangin said, using the Yiddish word for “joy.” “I felt like I was a human being again.”
Since being vaccinated, Janet Lazar, 77, of Silver Spring resumed her trips to the supermarket. And Fred Shapiro, 87, of Silver Spring felt safe enough to visit the dentist again. He is also comfortable getting within speaking distance of people and going shopping, “which [my daughter] was a little upset about if I wanted to do that earlier.” This month Shapiro plans to meet up with his gin rummy group to play a game for the first time since the pandemic began.
“Of course, we’re all going to wear masks and keep a safe distance from each other. But before the vaccine, we wouldn’t have even given thought to [meeting up for a game],” Shapiro said. “For that reason, the vaccination was very critical. We’ve been in isolation for almost a year. And when you get to the age where every year counts, you really are concerned about what life is going to be for you.”
Frumkin felt “extremely relieved” after being vaccinated and now feels safe enough to invite friends over to watch TV, just as long as they sit on opposite ends of the couch.
“It just felt like the world opened up again,” Frumkin said. “And I know it didn’t. And I understand about taking precautions and keeping the mask on. But it’s just an entirely different feeling.”
Gonzales still plans to isolate for the time being, but now feels comfortable enough to dine in at restaurants. He looks forward to visiting his 99-year-old mother who lives at an assisted living facility in Chicago.
“I felt that at that point there’s really a light at the end of the tunnel, that we can be freer, there was some hope for the future,” Gonzales said. “Before the vaccine, I got kind of stale staying at home all the time. But it’s going to be nice to be able to travel.”
Last week, as Passover approached, Lazar planned to host a seder with only her husband, just like last year. She planned to follow that with a Zoom seder at a neighbor’s house.
Last year, Martin and his family had a Zoom seder. Last week he was looking forward to attending an in-person seder with his girlfriend’s family at her apartment.
“And I feel safe because I’ve been vaccinated,” Martin said. “And if you get exposed, I mean, it’s not life and death, which is a big difference.”