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'I haven't seen my family in more than a year': Vaccination stories of hope shared

'I haven't seen my family in more than a year'

GIVING A SHOT: Jenasis Vita, a school nurse, gives Joseph Lujan a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Tuesday  during a vaccination clinic at the Yona gym. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

A father who's about to see his wife and daughter again after more than a year. A wife who's supposed to get her second dose together with the love of her life, but he died before Valentine's Day. An 85-year-old who's wary of needles.

They're among the 105 residents from different villages who got their COVID-19 vaccine at the Yona gym on Tuesday.

Every village-based vaccination clinic is allotted 100 doses, but at times, there's more demand for it. 

"My husband and I got our first Pfizer vaccine at Okkodo High School in January. We're supposed to be getting our second dose today, together. Now I'm here by myself because he passed away on Feb. 13," Julie Duenas, 55, said.

She and her husband Melton spent 33 years together, including 20 years as a married couple. A massive stroke took him away from her.

"He was the one who told me I should get vaccinated," Duenas said, adding that getting fully vaccinated is like fulfilling her late husband's wish.

Even in death, she said, it's like her husband wanted what's best for her so she would get an added layer of protection from COVID-19.

"I wish he's here," the grandmother of 16 said.

Duenas, a building custodian for the Department of Public Works, took the COVID-19 test three times over the past year and, thankfully, she said, "all came back negative."

"I hope I'd be OK, with no side effects from getting this second vaccine," the Inarajan resident said. "I hope I won't have fever tonight."

'Peace of mind'

Denis Snaer, a dental assistant, said getting the vaccine offers him peace of mind, especially with travel plans to see his wife and 4-year-old daughter after more than a year of waiting because of the pandemic.

"I haven't seen my family in more than a year," he said, during a 15-minute observation period after getting his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Snaer, 49, last saw his wife and daughter in November 2019 and he was supposed to visit them again in March 2020, but COVID-19 started tearing through Guam. He moved the trip by another month, thinking the pandemic would be over by then.

About a year later, the world is still in the throes of the pandemic, with travel restrictions very much in place.

As a health care worker, he opted for the free vaccination which would help prepare him for his travel to Taiwan to see his family.

"Having FaceTime is nice, but it's hard. It's not the same. My daughter asks me, 'When are you coming?' And when she sees a plane, she thinks it's from Guam and with her dad in it," he said.

Almost gone

The Department of Public Health and Social Services' village-based vaccination clinic is separate from its clinic at the University of Guam Calvo Field House that's done in partnership with the Guam National Guard.

Government officials are looking to achieve herd immunity by summer, but the limiting factor is the vaccine supply.

Guam has used nearly all the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech doses it received, so it has to pause the vaccination for about a week starting Saturday.

However, Guam will be receiving 35,260 more doses that are expected to arrive on March 5.

More than 48,000 residents have so far gotten either one or two doses, and more than 17,000 have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Needles not really that big

Rufina Aguon, 85, watched the news of ongoing vaccination for COVID-19 in different places and was scared of the large size of the needles shown on TV. It turns out, the needle actually used for the vaccination isn't really that big, she said.

"I feel OK," the Barrigada resident said, after getting her first Pfizer vaccine dose at the Yona gym.

With her was her niece and primary caregiver, Katherine Murphy, 60, who also got her first dose.

"On TV, the needles looked so big, but thankfully it's not really that big when you get the vaccine. My aunt, she's turning 86 in March and she's still strong. We were supposed to get the vaccine earlier, but she kept putting it off. It's probably because of the needles you see on TV," the niece said.

One can still get COVID-19 even after full vaccination, but the symptoms are not expected to be as severe as what it would be.

Officials also said people who receive the vaccine should still wear a mask, wash their hands and observe social distance.

Grace Bordallo, spokesperson for Public Health, said 105 people got their first or second Pfizer vaccine shots at the Yona Gym, and the last person was released from post-observation at 12:18 p.m.

The village clinic is supposed to be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but all doses usually get administered by lunch hour.

"We're very thankful to the (Yona) mayor and the people in our social media who helped us reach 100 today," she said. Public Health will return to Yona in three weeks to administer the second Pfizer shots.

Steven Acfalle said COVID-19 has already killed and infected so many people around the world so he decided to get the vaccine to better protect himself against it, he said.

The 52-year-old Yona resident got his first dose on Tuesday, and is looking forward to getting the second one to be fully vaccinated.

"Thank God there's now a vaccine," he said.

The next village-based vaccination clinic is at the Barrigada Community Center on Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., for Pfizer vaccines.

Walk-ins are accepted, but people are encouraged to register with the village mayor's office. 

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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