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The emotional roller coaster of getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Eight New Englanders share their experiences at different stages in the process of getting “the jab.” 

With roller coasters, the thrill is in all the ups and downs. Take Kingda Ka at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure theme park. It’s the tallest coaster in the world and the fastest in North America. The hair-raising experience takes riders up 456 feet high (a mere 45 stories) and back down again in a heart-pounding, twisting drop.

From the exhilaration of registration to the anticipation of and relief after that first shot, the ride to getting a COVID-19 vaccination has sometimes felt like the emotional equivalent of hopping on Kingda Ka. But as these recently vaccinated New Englanders can attest, at the end of this roller coaster, there’s a sense of relief.

Ready to register

On Monday, April 12, Devon O’Brien, 30, of South Burlington, Vt., was finally eligible to sign up for her vaccine. “The hardest kind of patience is vaccine patience,” she says. “A lot of my friends from out of state were already getting [their vaccines] or were teachers or front-line workers who had them. I was having major vaccine envy.” So when the big day arrived and O’Brien logged onto Vermont’s Health Department system only to be greeted by a repeat “error” message, she was crushed. “I was super disappointed. Just so upset.”

Everyone 16 years of age and older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. For help finding a vaccine near you, visit Vaccine Finder or your local health department’s website from this CDC link.


The eternal wait 

A woman with long hair wearing a maskRhiannon Toole

For James McGuinness, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., registering wasn’t the issue. Rather, the waiting period until his first appointment arrives seems aggravatingly extended. “I don’t like shots, I don’t like going to the doctor or medical facilities if I don’t have to — they make me anxious,” he says. “But, I’m very adamant about getting it done as soon as I can.” 

Rhiannon Toole, 21, of Longmeadow, Mass., also agrees that her first appointment can’t come fast enough. “I am excited! Very excited!” says the college junior, who adds she’s looking forward to getting rid of her mask collection someday in the future. “I would love to get to the point where we don’t have masks anymore, where we can go about freely and not worry about getting [the virus] or giving it to someone else.” 

Before vaccination, do not take over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, or antihistamines in an effort to try and prevent side effects or allergic reactions. We don’t know yet if these medications will affect how well the vaccine works. To get more information on preparing for your COVID-19 vaccination, visit our guide.

Shot one is done! Or: One-and-done already?

Jacob and Ruhika posed for a celebratory vaccination selfie.

In a happy twist of fate, Devon O’Brien’s neighbor called her later that same Monday to alert her to a clinic with spare Johnson & Johnson shots. “They had extras and there was a waiting list,” O’Brien says. “I got called back within 15 minutes and was able to get a shot that day. It was so crazy!” 

Newlyweds Jacob and Ruhika Caughfield of Hinesburg, Vt., also got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine around the same time as O’Brien. Although 24 and 25, respectively, the pair were eligible thanks to an accelerated schedule for BIPOC Vermonters and their families. And since there’s just one Johnson & Johnson shot compared to Pfizer’s and Moderna’s two, they were done. “The anxiety level is a lot lower,” Ruhika says. 

Bobby Leibrock, 39, of Ridgefield, Conn., received his first Pfizer shot on April 3. “The last month, having it has been exciting,” says the father of three. “I’ve been a little bit more daring in terms of more interactions [with others].” However, since Leibrock’s wife is pregnant with their fourth child and not planning to get vaccinated until after the baby comes, Leibrock says he’ll just consider himself “halfway there,” even after he receives his second shot this week. “We’ll still be masking indoors, maybe a little more flexible in outdoors situations.”

As of April 25, 2021, the CDC and FDA recommended the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine resume after a temporary pause to review the vaccine’s safety. Available data shows the known benefits of vaccination outweigh the known risks. Women under 50 should be made aware of the rare potential of an adverse event, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, associated with the J&J vaccine. Please see the official CDC statement here. For information on the COVID vaccine and additional resources, please visit our Guide to Care.


Shot two — phew! 

Roberta Sharp enjoying her post-vaccination trip.

For Leibrock’s father-in-law, Richard Inserra, 72, of Westerly, R.I., being fully vaccinated since the beginning of April has been a game-changer. Along with his wife, who has also received both Moderna shots, Inserra can visit his grandkids — in person. “Now that we’re vaccinated, we can play with them and pick them up and give them a hug. That’s a big thing,” he says.

Roberta Sharp, of Bar Harbor, Maine, tells a similar tale. “When I was two weeks out from my last vaccine in February, I traveled to Colorado and went downhill skiing with my grandkids.” And more travel and family visits are ahead, Sharp says. “I have other trips planned, believe me. I’m going to California. I’m going back to Colorado. I’m 71 — I don’t have time to waste!”

Getting back to “normal”

The Caughfields have stepped out of their kitchen. “We can go to coffee shops again!” says Jacob. “And restaurants!” adds Ruhika. They even placed their first take-out order in over a year this last week. “We ate pizza three days in a row, which was really nice,” Ruhika says, laughing.

A woman wearing a mask holding a COVID-19 vaccination cardDevon O’Brien

As for O’Brien? She’s just glad it’s over. “That Monday alone was so much emotional whiplash,” she says. “And the cherry — the anxiety cherry — on top of all that was the next morning when I woke up to the news,” she says of the FDA’s pause of the Johnson & Johnson shot. The agency temporarily halted distribution to further investigate a rare complication that six people reported after receiving the vaccine. Fortunately, O’Brien experienced normal symptoms and celebrated by booking plane tickets to see family in Iowa — her first visit in a year-and-a-half. “It’s going to be amazing!” she says. 

Even after you’ve been fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends you continue to take the following precautions in public places: Wear a mask, stay six feet apart from others, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. For more tips, visit this CDC page.


This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.