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How life changed for 10 health experts who got coronavirus vaccines

Megan Reeves, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

“We feel that we can get together indoors,” he said. “Olga and I have become very optimistic.”

Wolfson hardly felt his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, he said. The second, administered three weeks ago, came with mild side effects for less than a day, he said, including achy joints, haziness and fatigue. The couple felt fine the following day, Wolfson said.

The best part of being vaccinated, Wolfson said, is being able to see his adult sons who live locally and have gotten shots, too. “Instead of meeting completely outdoors and being at separate tables, we can be indoors now. They can come over to my house and I can go over to theirs. We can act as though the disease does not exist in our bubble.”

Wolfson and his wife have also made December reservations to fly to Greece, where Olga’s parents live. They aren’t sure yet if they’ll be able to go, but they’re hopeful for the first time in a while.

Dr. Ulyee Choe

Director, Pinellas County health department

Choe, 41, received his two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine around the beginning of this year. He experienced some muscle aches and fatigue, but said the side effects weren’t any worse than the symptoms of COVID-19, and that the outcome of getting the virus could have been worse.

He is continuing to wear masks and practice caution as he waits for more data to see if the vaccine protects against virus transmission, rather than just serious symptoms. Choe said he’d also like to see vaccination rates increase and coronavirus cases to continually decrease before loosening precautions. At the same time, the vaccine has given him some peace of mind.

He emphasized that the vaccines underwent rigorous studies and said it’s important to dispel myths around the process. “Personally I do feel more protected,” he said.

Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes Jr.

Chair, Florida Coronavirus Vaccination Education and Engagement Task Force

As pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Holmes has been leading a statewide coalition aimed at getting vaccinations to people of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus yet underrepresented among the vaccinated.

In early January, the 71-year-old received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. He felt a bit of stinging but no other side effects, he said. After that dose and the next, he was back in the pulpit the following day.

Holmes opted to see his youngest grandson, who is 2, for the first time. His daughter and her husband came to visit, along with his other grandkids.

“I was able to touch and hug and embrace my family,” he said. “I’ve encouraged all of my siblings and in-laws to take the vaccine.”

Dr. Ricardo Izurieta

Director of Global Communicable Diseases, University of South Florida

It’s been over a year since Izurieta has been able to see his 91-year-old father, who lives in Ecuador.

 

Now Izurieta, 59, has received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine, with a second shot scheduled for April. He’s hoping to reunite with his father in late May after they’ve both been vaccinated — and the first thing he plans to do is give him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“We Latinos, we give a lot of hugs and kisses,” Izurieta said. He’s said he’s also excited to travel again with his 24-year-old son, who lives in Orlando, and visit a national park together.

“I can tell everybody that I know how the vaccines work, what are the side effects and everything,” he said. “I feel very confident.”

Cindy Prins

Epidemiologist, University of Florida

Prins, 49, got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in January. Her arm was sore, but she had no other side effects, she said. The second shot brought fatigue and some chills, but nothing bad enough that she had to miss work.

As an epidemiologist and director of UF’s master of public health program, Prins has been fairly conservative in returning to normal activities since being vaccinated. She wants to keep being careful until more people get shots, she said. But she did return to playing tennis, a hobby she’s missed through the pandemic, about a month after her second dose.

The other day, Prins stopped by a colleague’s house to drop something off. Both had been vaccinated at that point, and they did an awkward dance about how they should see each other, she said.

“It was the funniest interaction,” Prins said. “She was like, ‘Do you want to come in?’ And I was like, ‘Yes? I think that’s okay.’”

They still sat 6 feet apart, but for the first time in a while were able to see each other’s maskless face.

Carole Covey

Director, Tampa Greyhound Track vaccine site

Covey, a registered nurse who runs the federally supported vaccination site at Tampa Greyhound Track, hasn’t changed much since her vaccination in February. But her family in Texas feels better knowing she’s had shots, she said.

She’s in Tampa temporarily to help with Florida’s vaccine rollout. She spends every day at the track, interacting with tons of people to make sure distribution of thousands of shots per day runs smoothly.

Her own vaccination is “an extra layer of protection” for her as she does that work,” Covey said. “My family feels more comfortable knowing that I am protected while I’m out traveling on the frontlines of COVID.”

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