Graphic by Rebecca Russ/COURIER
Graphic by Rebecca Russ/COURIER

Eat out. Get a haircut. Be a good citizen. People in Charlotte on why they rushed to get the COVID vaccine as NC upped inoculation efforts.

“It’s a responsibility of every adult to take the vaccine,” John Bradshaw said. “It’s a public duty.” 

On a chilly Wednesday morning at Charlotte’s Bojangles’ Coliseum, Bradshaw and his wife Jennifer, both in their late 70s, were among the first members of the general public to receive the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer. 

They were part of Mecklenburg County’s Phase 1B Group 1 – adults 75 or older, regardless of their health status. (During Phase 1A, the vaccine was made available to healthcare workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients.) 

“The sooner I protect myself, the sooner I can protect my family, and then I can spend more time with the grandkids,” said 76-year-old Eva Shields. “It’s my responsibility for others to try to minimize the pandemic.”

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Coronavirus Vaccine in North Carolina
Jennifer and John Bradshaw depart Bojangles Arena in Charlotte, NC after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine inside. (Image for Cardinal & Pine by Grant Baldwin)

After being directed to parking spaces by a group of National Guard service officers, Shields, the Bradshaws and others joined a steady and orderly stream of seniors who had come to the entertainment venue, temporarily converted to a vaccination center, to receive the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

With a limited amount of the vaccine on hand, recipients were required on Tuesday to make an appointment to receive their dose. There were only 5,000 appointments available for all of January. After their first dose today, recipients will return to the coliseum for a second shot later this month.

North Carolina officials have been seeking to speed the pace of vaccinations in the coming weeks, after a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control noted the state’s extraordinarily sluggish start, trailing most states in the country. 

According to the CDC, only five states had lower vaccination rates per capita than North Carolina as of Monday.

With coronavirus cases spiking again, Gov. Roy Cooper extended the state’s curfew this week. NC set a high for new cases Thursday with 10,398 confirmed cases. That number declined only slightly to 10,028 Friday. Both are staggeringly high.

Cooper urged North Carolinians, as soon as they are eligible, to sign up for their shot. The vaccine is safe and free, public health experts say. Neither of the vaccines approved for emergency authorization by the FDA have reported serious safety concerns, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. 

‘Don’t we all want to get back to normal?’

Coronavirus Vaccine in North Carolina
Mecklenburg County residents arrive to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by appointment at Bojangles Arena in Charlotte, NC. (Image for Cardinal & Pine by Grant Baldwin)

Robert Papernik, 76, said Wednesday in Charlotte that he was getting the vaccine to protect his family. After getting the shot, he said he felt relieved.

“I’m glad I did it, and I come back for my second shot January 27,” he said. “They already gave me a date.”

Randy Everett, 75, suffers from heart disease and rarely goes out. But he told Cardinal & Pine he was determined to come out to the Coliseum.

“I wanted to get out and get this shot just as quick as I could,” he said.

Another participant, Bob, withheld his full name when he spoke with Cardinal & Pine this week because he said he’s a healthcare executive with a company that is currently debating whether they’re going to require their providers to get the shot. As a member of Phase 1A, Bob already got inoculated on Monday. He came back on Wednesday to accompany his wife for her shot.

“We should all get the shot as quickly as we can,” Bob said. “The more people that are vaccinated, and the sooner they’re vaccinated, the sooner we’ll achieve herd immunity.”

Like Bob, Susan Furr is a health worker. In addition, she’s also in the 75-and-over age range, so it was doubly important for her to get the vaccine.

“It will be a relief to me to get it,” she said. 

Furr also has friends who are hesitant to get the vaccine. They feel the Pfizer vaccine rolled out too early, Furr said. Even though her friends know the vaccine does not contain a live virus, and cannot infect anyone with COVID-19, they still worry that the vaccine hasn’t been properly vetted.

Furr said that she hoped her friends, as well as people opposed to the vaccine, would do their research before making a decision.

Bob said it’s time people accepted the science of immunology, got their shot and moved on.

“Don’t we all want to get back to normal?” he said. “This seems like the easiest way. I can’t wait to get a haircut and eat in a restaurant.”

Eighty-one-year-old Ed Spears said he trusts science.

“Fauci says we ought to get it,” he said, referring to Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci.

Despite living in Charlotte for 27 years, and in the United States for 50, the Bradshaws retain the musical accent of their native Liverpool, England. They said they’re both incredulous that anyone would boycott the vaccine.

If you don’t get [the vaccine], then on every street corner you’re at risk to catch [the virus],” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “You have no idea where you’re going to pick it up.”

Shields’ message to anti-COVID vaxxers was even more blunt.

“Open your eyes, plain and simple,” she said. 

“If you don’t protect yourself against this virus, you’re going to get burned. And your family is going to get burned. It’s just not worth pretending that you know everything.”