12,500 Oklahomans get their 'ticket to freedom' at mass COVID vaccination events
For many Oklahomans newly eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, the shot was a dose of relief after almost a year living in a pandemic.
They said they were ready to get back to churches, to movie theaters, to family reunions, and to grandkids’ sporting events — to normal life.
Mireya Contreras, 30, and her sister, 19-year-old Isabel Contreras, both from Edmond, were vaccinated at the Embassy Suites in Norman, where IMMY Labs partnered with the state health department and other entities to host a large-scale clinic, offering 10,000 appointments.
“It was a little bit surreal after the year we've experienced, to be able to sit down and be like, this may be the end,” Mireya said.
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Mireya said once she’s fully vaccinated, she’s looking forward to all the normal activities that were once taken for granted. For Isabel, getting her vaccine meant she was closer to having a normal college experience: she’s ready to be in a classroom and hear her professors lecture in person.
The vaccines will also give their families a sense of peace, Mireya said.
“We've known a lot of people within our friends circle, whether it's family or friends, who passed away due to COVID,” she said. “So to have a little bit more peace ... it means a lot to them and means a lot to us.”
Oklahoma on Monday added teachers and school support staff for grades pre-K through 12th and people 16 and older with certain health conditions to the list of those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Since those groups include more than a million people, officials have urged patience as people try to snag appointments.
Sean Bauman, president and CEO of IMMY Labs, said he hopes IMMY and its partners will be able to hold large-scale vaccine clinics regularly to keep up with demand for the shots.
Bauman said each time they’ve held a vaccine distribution event, he’s been left emotional watching people — many of whom have been kept from their normal lifestyles for months — get their “ticket to freedom,” he said.
“This is hope for a lot of people,” Bauman said.
As people left the IMMY vaccine site, they offered others standing in line some little encouragement about how smoothly the process went. Dr. Nick Migliorino, superintendent of Norman Public Schools, told a group it was more efficient than a Chick-fil-A drive-through.
One newly vaccinated Oklahoman strode through the doors Monday afternoon, raised her arms over her head and cheered out loud from behind her N-95 mask as she left the Embassy Suites.
Brenna O’Hara, an OU student and a substitute teacher for Norman Public Schools who got her first shot Monday, said once it’s safe, she’s looking forward to a road trip she and her mother planned to go on for spring break last year but had to cancel when COVID-19 forced shutdowns across the country.
With one shot down, O’Hara said she was “absolutely thrilled that I'm getting this chance to be part of the solution.”
Douglass High School in Oklahoma City was home to another vaccination site Monday sponsored by Pastor John A. Reed's Fairview Baptist Church in an effort to ensure equity in the vaccine rollout. Staff at the site doled out 2,500 doses, including about 400 to teachers and school staff, according to the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
Berna Johnson, a second-grade teacher who got her vaccine Monday afternoon at Douglass, said she felt some relief after getting her first dose after initially having reservations. After some encouragement from her loved ones and having seen some of her relatives get the shot, she decided to go for it to protect herself and her students, she said.
Once life returns to normal, she’s ready to be around her family again and to worship at church without the masks and distance, Johnson said.
Effilene Owens, who got her second vaccine dose Monday morning at Douglass, said she’s taken care to protect herself from the virus.
“I’ll just feel more safe going to the store,” she said. “I’ll still wear my mask, but I’m just glad it’s over.”
For Melody Scholl, being fully vaccinated on Monday gave her hope that she’ll be able to see her grandchildren again soon.
“I haven't been to a restaurant since last March,” she said. “I have first responders in my family: nurses and firefighters and two teachers. So we were just real, real careful. But I miss my grandkids.”