As state and national health officials continue the push to flesh out COVID-19 vaccination numbers, one Woodburn pharmacist provides a compelling first-hand understanding of why it is important.
Walgreens Pharmacy Manager Adrian Contreras has seen the pandemic from more angles than most. He lost a grandparent and an aunt within weeks of each other. An avid Portland dancer, Contreras saw a fellow 30-something dancer lose a battle to it. He even contracted it himself and had to isolate for two weeks in late 2020.
"I lost my (paternal) grandmother in Mexico to COVID, and that was actually right in the middle of the pandemic. She was older, but she was healthy before she got it," Contreras recalled, noting that he believes a cousin may have caught it asymptomatically and spread it unwittingly. "The entire family was sick and unfortunately, because of the restrictions in travel we couldn't go to her funeral.
"Three weeks later my aunt, my mother's sister in eastern Oregon, got COVID and got sick and passed away," he said.
Shutdowns and restrictions placed on gatherings precluded the paying of last respects. So when Contreras reflects on his experience, he can't encourage people enough to do what they can to avoid the same fate.
"Vaccines work, and we want people to be protected. It not only protects you but it protects your family members," he stressed.
Contreras, 44, said after he came down with COVID-19, he had a fever for a week, and following that he had some lingering breathing issues. When the vaccine was available, he got it. His biggest fear was passing the illness on to his 63-year-old mother with whom he share's a residence.
Now he encourages anyone he meets who is hedging on the issue to get it done.
According to USA Facts, by July 15, 59.61 percent of Oregonians have received at least one shot, and almost 55% have been fully vaccinated.
A Happy Valley resident, Contreras managed Woodburn's Bi-Mart pharmacy before it shuttered, and he hired on with Walgreens. He said Walgreens has been at the forefront of providing the vaccine in a multitude and variety of ways.
None the less, there continues to be blocks of people who eschew the free shot.
"From my experience, there is a percentage of people that have personal reasons why they haven't gotten vaccinated," Contreras said. "When I see some late comers that finally get vaccinated, I hear a huge variety of reasons why they had not done so: they thought it was mumble jumble; they had friends who think it's dumb; they had a family member who said it was silly; they knew someone who said it's the government trying to hold you down. Some people even have religious reasons.
"When I discuss it with people, I just try to personalize it and make sure they feel comfortable about it," he continued. "Another reason I hear is that it's inconvenient. But it is free, and there is no reason why someone shouldn't get the vaccine.
"What it comes down to, if people haven't experienced a family member getting sick or passing away, it really doesn't hit home yet."
Contreras said that Walgreens is in a particularly suitable position to boost vaccinations due to its reach and prevalence statewide and beyond.
Outside his own personal hardships with the pandemic, Contreras is also eager to get out and get moving.
The prospect of higher percentages of vaccinated Americans has allowed more businesses to open, including dance studios across the country.
Born and raised through the seventh grade in Baja California North, Mexico, Contreras is a dancer with expertise in Salsa and Bachata; he is eager to get back to dance festivals like the Rose City Festival in Portland. He wants to once again perform with his partner, Julia Ostrovskaia, showing off the training they do 4 to 5 times per week, and the moves he has perfected while dancing separately with his Salsa team three times per week.
"Getting vaccinated allows our dance community to reunite, socialize and continue our passions for movement and music," Contreras said. "It's time for all of us to dance again."
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