Lynn Whyte of Blue Hill had some serious pep in her step as she walked out of the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Tuesday. She’d just received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Northern Light Health vaccination clinic, and she was a little bit giddy.
While the actual process of getting the vaccine was amazingly easy, she said, the shot represents much more than just a simple vaccination. It represents, for Whyte and countless others who have received their shots, the end of an excruciatingly boring and emotionally difficult year, and the start of an eventual return to the things that make life worth living.
“I haven’t hugged my son in a year. And it’s been incredibly boring. It’s like ‘Groundhog Day.’ You get up every day, and it’s the same thing. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t do anything. But I stayed healthy, because I stayed home,” Whyte, 72, said. “So this is a huge relief. This is freedom.”
The Northern Light vaccine clinic at the Cross Center has been praised by both health officials and those coming to get their vaccine as a marvel of efficiency. In a world where people expect long delays, bureaucracy and needless complication to do seemingly anything, the simplicity of the process at the clinic seems almost too good to be true.
Carolyn Burke, 72, of Augusta drove to Bangor to get her shot, rather than stay closer to home, because she heard Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah say in one of his regular press conferences that it was a good place to go. She said she was in and out of the clinic in a half hour.
“It was unbelievably simple. I got right in,” Burke said. “And now I feel like I can get on with my life. I’m looking forward to going back to church. I’m looking forward to getting more things done.”
Kyle Marshall, a fourth-year pharmacy student at Husson University, is one of hundreds of people who have volunteered at the clinic since it opened on Feb. 1. He said he’s seen the full gamut of emotion — from overwhelming relief to a little bit of apprehension.
“Some people are a little nervous, because it is the unknown. Everyone has their own opinion on the shot itself,” Marshall said. “But the biggest reaction I usually get is people saying how well organized everything is. It’s really a well-oiled machine. I feel really fortunate to be involved in this.”
Leslie West, a retired cardiologist, has done a number of different jobs as a clinic volunteer, including doing symptom screening and acting as a clinical observer during the 15-minute evaluation period immediately after people get their shots. She said she’s seen unique differences in reactions from people between the first week of February, when there were more people in their 80s and 90s, to now, when people in their 60s are getting their shots.
“The older folks are much more trusting. The younger people are a little more standoffish. They are not quite as thrilled as the older people, because the older folks have just been so isolated for so long. For them, the prospect of being able to hug their grandkids again is the first kind of hope they’ve had in a year,” West said.
Hugging family members, going out to restaurants, traveling, going to concerts and festivals, the reopening of certain businesses — while these things are all unlikely to happen tomorrow, with the vaccines, it’s now not a question of if they’ll happen again, but when.
Larry Turner of Seal Cove and his wife, Judy, have spent the past year getting advice from a geneticist friend who works at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, so when the vaccines became available, they both understood the science behind them. And given that Turner, 64, has asthma, he was eager to get his shot as soon as possible. When vaccines opened up to his age group, he signed up right away for a slot at the Cross Center.
“It’s been a lonely year,” said Turner, who is retired but helps his wife run her art gallery, Judy Taylor Fine Art Studio and Gallery, also in Seal Cove. “We couldn’t open our business this year. We knew early on it just wasn’t going to happen. Artists need to have that interaction with people. We all missed out on that. So we are really excited to get back to that.”
Though it was science that created the vaccine, it is everyday people — from health care workers to volunteers — who are bringing it to the public. There’s a sense that history is being made, one dose at a time.
“The fact that things like this are happening across our country is amazing,” said Jayne Giles, 64, of Belfast, who had just received her first dose on Tuesday. “I can’t think of anything like this in my lifetime. Maybe when they came up with the polio vaccine. The fact that this all came together so quickly is incredible. And to think, a year ago this was all just starting, and now here we are, getting vaccines.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Lynn Whyte’s name.