‘Let it be a light’: Vaccine expansion brings hope, relief for older adults and families

MADISON, Wis. – As more older adults get vaccinated against COVID-19, it can be a big relief, not just for them, but their families.

That’s something I can attest to. As I’ve reported on vaccine stories, I’ve heard a lot of people say they want the vaccine, but they really want it for their older relatives, like parents and grandparents. I’ve had my grandparents and 73-year-old father in mind since the pandemic began.

My dad, Patrick O’Neill, calls himself a “young 73,” and it’s hard to argue. He’s still working in a health care capacity, but his social life, which I often describe as more robust than my own at age 27, has dwindled during the pandemic.

“I do very little socializing,” he said. “It’s affected my life immensely as far as personal relationships. I just don’t get to spend the time with people I’d really like to.”

Normally, I don’t go long without seeing my Dad, but I don’t have to tell you these haven’t been normal times.

“We always had adventures, went on hikes, took trips, went to dinner,” he said. “I miss it.”

COVID takes an obvious physical toll, but an emotional one, too.

“What we know through last year is there isn’t necessarily an escape from some of this stress,” said Meghan Henderson, a behavioral health clinical practice leader at UnityPoint Health – Meriter.

Henderson’s focus is usually on helping patients with behavioral issues, but during the pandemic, she’s taken on a role of staff support given the emotional challenges health care workers have been facing. She has looked at models of grief and the emotional stages of disaster as they relate to the pandemic.

As Meriter begins vaccinating older adults along with health care workers, she said we can draw hope from the expansion of vaccinations.

“One of the first people to get vaccinated was one of the older ICU nurses at Meriter. There was a video, and I just was sobbing, and I definitely feel so much hope,” Henderson said, while stressing the importance of continuing precautions.

“We still need to mask and have some physical distance, but also know this is a step,” she said. “And sort of not put all of our eggs in one basket, but rather to sort of be in the moment with some of that happiness and let it be a light.”

It can be a light guiding us back to normal days – the hope of the return of that a big reason I pushed my dad to get the shot despite his trepidation. His appointment came Friday morning.

“It was remarkable. I did not feel anything after, and I can hardly tell I go the shot at all,” he said. “I was a little exhilarated.”

It’s not the end of this tough road, but today, we’ll celebrate the little things.