As the COVID-19 vaccine begins its rollout, area seniors have varying opinions ranging from excitement to hesitation regarding taking the shots.

At the Belvedere Center, a Genesis HealthCare-affiliated nursing home in Chester, not only did residents and staff receive the vaccine on Jan. 9, but the mayor and the local NAACP president did also.

“This is an important day, not only for the city of Chester but also for citizens throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland said. “It is important that you bring good health back to your community, and it starts with yourself. We are here today because we want to encourage others to get past the fear.

"We know about past history, but today’s science is much better. We are here today to lead by example. We want our entire community to get vaccinated and to get well. Today is a day of hope. If we are going to get healthy, this vaccine is the way to do it.”

Kirkland received his vaccine that day, along with Darrell Jones, president of the Chester National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Genesis is working closely with state governments to vaccinate employees and residents at its facilities across the nation. Genesis selected CVS Health Corp. as its pharmacy partner to provide and administer the vaccine in all states that are working with CVS or Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. for vaccine management.

“The vaccine is now our most important tool in fighting this pandemic — together with personal protective equipment, frequent testing and our rigorous standards and infection protocols," Sharon McDermond, center executive director of The Belvedere Center, said at the vaccination event. "This is yet another historic moment as the COVID-19 vaccine reaches more residents and staff.”

Other opinions

Elsewhere, seniors who have yet to receive the vaccine shared their opinions.

Marj Babiak, 66, of Swarthmore is enthusiastic.

"I'm excited," the chief financial officer of Community Transit said. "It would be nice to get back to some sense of normality."

She said getting the vaccine would relieve some of her worries, especially as she works with the transportation agencies' drivers, who are exposed to many in the senior population.

"What I find is that people who retired, or my friends, tend to be very cautious,” Babiak said. "(With the vaccine, I would) not have to worry so much about contracting the disease and protecting your loved ones. That's my hope, and that's what some people are saying."

Not comfortable

Polly Harris of Folcroft is at the other end of the spectrum.

"To be honest with you, I'm not comfortable with it yet for several reasons," the 65-year-old said. "I personally don't trust it. I am African American, and I'm going back to the syphilis experiment, and I just don't feel comfortable."

Harris was referring to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in which Black men were told they were being given free health care and instead the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were conducting a study on untreated syphilis from 1932 to 1972.

Harris said she's noticed dignitaries receiving the vaccine, but she has her concerns.

"I'm going to be one of the last ones," Harris said. "I'm not really comfortable with it."

Somewhere in the middle

Merle Jones, 72, of Brookhaven is somewhere in the middle between Babiak's excitement and Harris' reticence.

"I think if I needed it to live, I'm willing to take it," she said.  "My husband is a resident of a local nursing home. He’s already received his first shot. He got it two weeks ago; he thinks that’s what you needed."

She was speaking about her husband, James, who resides at the ManorCare Health Services — Wallingford.

Her four adult children also live in walking distance from her, and she spoke of how a vaccine would allow her grandchildren to return to full-time, in-person learning in the Penn-Delco School District, rather than the hybrid learning now where they switch in cohorts from virtual to in-person learning.

Routine changed

Jones herself has had to change her routine because of COVID-19.

"I'm an officer at my church," she said of the Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chester. "That's changed quite a bit because all of our services are on Zoom now. That's been since March."

Employed full time in the financial department of Community Transit, Jones said she follows all the precautions they require.

"I didn’t do a lot of Christmas shopping," Jones said. "I'm not going to a concert or a movie theater or any large political gathering."

Although she bowls in a league, it had stopped for some time and then it resumed, but the number of people had to be reduced, so now her scheduled time to bowl is on Sunday nights to avoid any crowds.

Jones said when her doctor told her to get a shingles vaccine, which was also a two-part shot, she did so. she's figuring on taking the COVID vaccine, too. She's prepared to take Tylenol if she gets some of the symptoms or if she feels a bit achy after receiving it.

"I think it’s an intelligent move to take it," Jones said. "If you have a negative reaction and it wipes you out, then so be it.”

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