As thousands scramble to schedule their COVID-19 vaccines, a group of frontline workers and long-term residents at Seashore Gardens Living Center reflect on what it meant to be in that first tier.
Mark Eisenstein would be happy if he never had to don another mask in his lifetime. A resident in SGLC’s Assisted Living residence, Mark has been spending a lot of time in his room, a broad smile hidden behind a mask whenever others are present. Getting the vaccine was, in his words, “a no brainer.” “This is our way out,” he said. “I can’t live like this. If the vaccine is the key to getting out and living, that’s what I’m going to do.” Mark says he doesn’t understand people who choose not get the vaccine. “If you want to hold onto what you got, you better take the vaccine. Otherwise, you’re a damn fool.”
Residents and staff at SGLC received doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 7 and Jan. 28, 2021, as part of the Home’s commitment to protect and care for its vulnerable senior population. CVS Health administered the vaccine according to the N.J. Department of Health phased vaccine rollout. Staff and residents had to submit a consent form, giving their permission to be vaccinated. In the case of residents, permission had to be obtained from the responsible party.
Barbara Makoski gave permission for her mother, Pat Colgan, to get the vaccine. “My mom made sure that I received the Polio vaccine in the 1950’s which was brand new,” she said. “I’m sure she and my dad calculated the risk vs. benefit and realized that the chance of my getting polio was too great. It’s the same decision-making process that I made. I am relieved and excited for this first step toward normalcy for her. Seashore Gardens has done an amazing job of keeping her safe, but there is always the possibility that she could be exposed at some point. Getting the vaccine gives her a greater chance of not getting infected.”
Ellen Eisen made a similar choice for her father, Jerry Rhodes in Assisted Living. “It’s an imperative in my opinion,” she said. “We believe in the science. My father is elderly and needs all the protection he can get. SGLC has been extraordinarily protective of everybody. The vaccine is an important part of that effort.” As for doubters, she said “look around your neighborhood, look at the number of illnesses, and the horrifying number of deaths. There’s nothing else that’s going to solve this.”
That’s not to say that it was an easy decision for all. With news coverage criticizing the speed of emergency approvals for the new vaccines, there were concerns, at least initially.
“When they were talking about it in the beginning, I was leery,” admitted Shirley Bernstein who resides with husband Howard in the Assisted Living residence. “I was afraid that they were rushing things through, and wondering if they did the right studies. As time went on, and the scientific community and Dr. Fauci, discussed it, it became evident that it was safe. By the time it launched in Britain, we were on board.” Added Howard, “It’s a protection that everybody needs. I think it’s important to take it if you can.”
Director of Recreation Missy Rundio was a little concerned to get the vaccine, but she was more scared that her family, friends or the SGLC residents would contract COVID-19. Even though she does not typically get vaccines, she received the COVID-19 vaccine without hesitation. “The virus has sadly taken the lives of people I know and love,” she said. She lost her uncle to the disease. “There’s a serious outbreak; it’s moving rapidly,” she added. “I’m tired of living in fear. I want to go on vacation. I want to spend time with family. The vaccine will offer the protection that we all need.”
“The pandemic is like no other event in our recent and past history,” said Martin H. Klein, president and CEO, SGLC. “Our staff have been untiring in caring for our residents. The work is tough, tedious, and threatening in light of this pandemic. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re a charity; our mission is to take care of the elderly and enrich elder lives. Once everyone is able to get inoculated, we can begin to reduce the risk and get back to that mission. The vaccine is for the protection of all of us.”
Director of Rehabilitation Nicole Goodson got the vaccine because she wanted “to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I am happy that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It means we are one step closer to being back to normal. It is a way that I can be part of keeping myself, my family, my patients, my community and the world safe. And it is a way I can finally travel. I miss the Bahamas. I am grateful for all of the people that worked tirelessly to create the vaccine in this most unprecedented time.”
Sharon D’Angio, Director of Donor Services and PR, noted that she is “grateful to have another line of defense against the COVID-19 virus. For almost a year, we have been distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks to keep ourselves and our families and residents safe. I am hoping to be able to see my son and 1 year old grandson in Seattle one day soon.”
CVS Pharmacist Shelly Yard was onsite for both vaccine clinics at SGLC. “I’ve been a pharmacist for 30 years,” she said. “I’m happy to actually make a difference in this way. It’s great to be able to talk to my customers and do what I perceive a pharmacist should do. I grew up in Absecon and I was familiar with SGLC before this so I knew this was a very beautiful facility. Everybody is so nice and helpful.”
“This vaccine is a sign of hope for a better and healthier future,” said SGLC staff member Alyssa Buterick. “Choosing to get vaccinated means making the selfless decision to create a safer environment for our loved ones and community.”