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Freedom, Hope, Relief: What The COVID Vaccine Means To You

Hundreds of people told us what it felt like to finally get the COVID-19 vaccine. Here are your stories.

Posted on March 19, 2021, at 2:13 p.m. ET

Al Seib / Getty Images

Patients who have received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine sit in observation for 15 minutes before going back to work in the city of Vernon, CA.

Last week, BuzzFeed News asked to hear your stories about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. We received nearly 400 responses in less than 24 hours. People from all over the country, ages 19 to 85, wrote in about their experiences.

When the FDA authorized the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use in December, a mass rollout still seemed, after nearly a year of the pandemic, like a faraway goal. After a slow start, the nationwide vaccination drive has smashed expectations, especially in the past few weeks. More than 118 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered so far, and President Biden has said that all adults in the US will be eligible to be vaccinated by May 1.

It was clear from many responses we received that the vaccination effort has injected a sliver of hope into the country. After witnessing more than half a million COVID-19 deaths and struggling to survive with little help from the government, many people expressed elation and relief at finally getting the vaccine. Others recalled the nightmare of scheduling appointments. To most, getting the vaccine meant they were a step closer to normalcy.

Many people also detailed how their lives and families have been upended by the pandemic. Some lost jobs or income. Readers’ loved ones died of the virus, and some were sick with COVID themselves.

Ali, 25, said she was diagnosed with the coronavirus on March 27, 2020, and hospitalized soon after. She spent three months in bed, and still has severe lung damage from the virus.

“The stress was immense and traumatizing as I watched friends lose parents, classmates pass away, and lost my grandmother all within one year,” Ali wrote.

In rural Minnesota, where 31-year-old Ashley lives alone, the pandemic has been isolating and scary.

“I have not hung out with any friends in over six months. I have not seen my family’s faces without a mask since before Thanksgiving,” Ashley said. “I have not been touched by another person in almost a year.”

Leala Pourier, 19, lives in Colorado with her immediate family. Throughout the pandemic, Pourier said she has struggled with the anxiety of trying to keep tabs on her family members — her maternal grandparents, who live in Maine, and her paternal grandparents, who are Oglala Lakota, a band of the Lakota people who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

So in January, when her paternal grandparents, who are in their seventies, received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Pourier was overjoyed.

“It was definitely a really big relief,” Pourier said, especially because her aunt had a severe case of COVID over the summer and had to be hospitalized.

When it came time to schedule vaccine appointments, readers’ responses suggested the process has been a mixed bag. Some said scheduling was easy, while others described it as nearly impossible, including Hillary from Seattle, Washington, who said it “was worse than trying to get BTS concert tickets.”

Hillary said slots disappeared on the scheduling website as soon as they went live, and Hillary lost several appointments after not being able to fill out the online sign-up sheet quickly enough — an experience that 69-year-old Kristine Hines also had when trying to sign up for a vaccine in Florida.

“I couldn’t fill out the form fast enough and all the spaces filled up,” Hines, a grandmother of 10, said. “It was an extremely frustrating experience and I will admit sometimes I was in tears.”

Nicole, a New Jersey resident who finally nabbed an appointment for herself and her grandmother thanks to a volunteer-run Twitter account that informs people of available slots, said it was “basically like playing the Hunger Games.”

Gina Ferazzi / Getty Images

Long vaccination lines meander through the parking lot reaching the sidewalk at the Riverside Convention Center on March 1, 2021 in Riverside, California.

Some of you said you would not have been able to get vaccinated if you didn’t have help.

Trisha Miglani, a medical student at the University of Maryland, set out with her mom to schedule appointments for her grandparents. They were able to book a slot at a hospital for Miglani’s grandfather, but when he read the confirmation email, he accidentally canceled the appointment.

They eventually got him another appointment, at Walgreens, and one for her grandma at a Six Flags vaccination site.

Miglani’s grandmother, Veena Kohli, told BuzzFeed News she and her husband are not tech-savvy, adding, “We both would not have been able to secure an appointment if it wasn’t for our granddaughter.”

Amy Biedermann, a 35-year-old in Texas with a chronic health condition, was only able to land an appointment with help from a friend, and is now paying it forward.

“I have been in a mental fog because of all the stress and trying to figure out how to get the vaccine was incredibly overwhelming,” Biedermann said. “But now I am offering to help other people make their appointments because I know what to do.”

Rue Tierney got lucky. Tierney’s mom asked about the vaccine when they were in Walgreens one evening, and the staff told them they could sign up to get the Johnson & Johnson shot that night. Tierney and his mom filled out some forms and waited in a room for about an hour before getting the vaccine.

“I live in Texas, so it was really frustrating to see people without masks walking around,” Tierney said. “All of this was so incredibly lucky.”

For Alexa D., a teacher in the Atlanta, Georgia, area who seesawed between online and in-person teaching over the past few months, it was an easy process. When she showed up at a local hospital for her vaccine, the staff did not ask for her ID (she used her school email to sign up) or her insurance information, and handed her a waiver to sign.

“Then they just dosed me up and made me wait for 15 minutes with a doctor to make sure I was OK,” Alexa said. “They were very thorough about answering any and all questions people had… I think they wanted to make everyone comfortable.”

Carrie Schmidt , 29, said staff at the clinic she went to in Tucson, Arizona, seemed eager to vaccinate as many people as possible.

“Getting the vaccine was one of the best medical experiences I have ever had,” Schmidt said.

A number of healthcare workers told us how scarred they were from tending to COVID patients day after day and consoling grieving family members.

Megan Sitlington, 40, said the peak of the surge at the Boulder, Colorado, hospital she worked at was stressful. The worst period was between November and January, she said, when “it felt like every patient was COVID positive.”

“I held a woman who knew her father was dying. She was so scared,” Sitlington said. “Those memories and those days will stick with me.”

Sitlington did not anticipate the relief she felt after receiving her second dose of the vaccine, and she has found comfort as more of her family members get vaccinated.

“I’m still coming to grips with the reality that I can internally relax a little,” Sitlington said.

Some, like a 47-year-old in Nampa, Idaho, who manages a cemetery with their boyfriend, spoke about the feeling that the vaccine will protect them from the worst of others’ bad behavior.

“People here do not take this seriously at all and their behaviors reflect their disbelief. That makes working with the public VERY FRAUGHT,” they wrote. “We have buried several COVID victims and we are always surprised at the mourners not wearing masks or seeming to care about the disease that just blew a hole in their families.”

For Amanda in Virginia, who has severe asthma, being vaccinated is an assurance that people who don’t respect safety guidelines won’t get her super sick.

“I can’t control the people around me, but at least with a vaccine, I’m afforded a certain level of protection from their actions that I wasn’t before,” Amanda said.

Several people described being bowled over by a wall of emotion after getting their jabs.

Kate, 65, recalled that she and her daughter teared up when she received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I hadn’t realized till then the amount of isolation, fear, and pressure I was holding inside these last 12 months,” she said.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, Luisa White said she felt a sense of relief and awe, “like I was a part of history. I sat in my car after and just cried.”

Sandra Louise Stevenson, a 72-year-old in Memphis, Tennessee, simply wrote, “1st dose WOO HOO!”

Many described side effects like soreness and fatigue, but said the temporary discomfort was worth it.

Kristi in Oklahoma had a rash and a fever for a couple of days after her second shot. Even then, Kristi wrote, “I would 100% do it again if it means that myself and my loved ones will be protected.”

Most of all, people were relieved and optimistic about the future. Some said they would still be cautious in the coming months, and others described the safety that the vaccine afforded.

Mike Segar / Reuters

People wait in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan, which has been converted into a mass vaccination site.

In early March, the Centers for Disease Control released its guidelines for fully vaccinated people, recommending that they can be indoors together without masks on or physical distancing. The agency also said fully vaccinated people can visit with one other household that has not been vaccinated without wearing masks, so long as the unvaccinated people are at low risk of getting seriously ill.

But being vaccinated from COVID-19 is not a ticket back to pre-pandemic life. More than 200 million people in the country are still unvaccinated, and public health experts have warned about the threat of new coronavirus variants — a factor that CDC director Rochelle Walensky cited in explaining why the agency isn’t yet recommending travel for fully vaccinated people.

Still, the prospect of a future not fully consumed by the pandemic has brought joy to many people.

“It is the light at the end of the dark tunnel,” said Emily Houze in Louisville, Kentucky. “I can be around my parents and newborn niece without worrying I will kill them. I can get married now. I can live my life without the constant fear and anxiety.”

Many of you envisioned hugging family members, dining indoors, seeing friends, attending concerts, going to the grocery store without fear, and, most of all, a sense of freedom.

As 35-year-old Sunny from St. Louis, Missouri, wrote, “Spring is finally here, we’re shaking off the winter malaise, and the vaccine is rolling along. I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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