Four local perspectives on 2020 and impacts of vaccination

Tina Gram, 76, took this selfie at the Fenway mass vaccination site in March. She is one of more than 250 local older adults who received free transportation to vaccination appointments from Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.

Tina Gram couldn’t tell you exactly how long its been since she hugged her son, but she’s looking forward to a reunion this summer.

Like many people, the 76-year-old artist and teacher limited contact with the outside world during the Coronavirus pandemic. When a vaccine became available, she surfed the Web for days until securing an appointment. Getting the vaccine was a huge relief, even if it did not change things overnight.

“I’m still being cautious, but I’m definitely planning a trip in my head for June, to visit my son,” said Gram. “That means a lot to me.”

Gram is one of more than 260 local older adults who received free transportation to a nearby vaccination site through Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services. The agency launched the program in February, to help facilitate easier access to vaccinations.

As of April 15, 84 percent of Massachusetts residents age 65 and over had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Given the progress, we thought it would be nice to circle back and reconnect with some local residents who received the vaccine. These are their stories:

Somerville resident Dean Brunel, 80, said the decision to get vaccinated was an easy one.

“As a kid, I had a classmate die from a disease that is now preventable, and another who was traumatically affected by it,” said Brunel.  “I remember when the vaccine came out for polio—what a thing that was.”

Brunel was vaccinated in March, and a few weeks later enjoyed a “wonderful” Easter with family. He looked back at 2020 as a mixed bag: business at his law practice slowed down, but that made more time for his piano. He was diagnosed with cancer, but also got to spend more time connecting with family. Overall, he said the experience brought him closer to the people in his life, calling that a net positive.

“I saw how reliable my son and daughter have been, how wonderfully they’ve worked with their children and spouses to do the right thing,” said Brunel. “I’ve seen them grow, and I have seen my grandchildren do the right thing with social distancing and wearing masks. I am so proud of them.”

Cambridge resident Beryl Hoffstein, 67, was fully vaccinated in March and celebrated two weeks later by going out to get a haircut. A retired copy editor/clerical worker, Hoffstein had been trimming her own hair for months, and was glad to change that up.

Beryl Hoffstein, 67, got a haircut to celebrate getting vaccinated. Taking walks in the neighborhood is one of primary forms of recreation over the past year.

“I did not realize what a big difference it would make, but I felt 100 percent better afterward,” she said.

Speaking in late March, Hoffstein was still being cautious: wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and waiting for the statewide COVID numbers go down. She feels safer after getting vaccinated, and is looking forward to when her circle of friends is comfortable resuming their weekly dinner-and-movie nights.

“I feel that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Hoffstein. “It’s not immediate, but I feel like I’ve done what I can do about it.”

Hoffstein described 2020 as a harder year than most. She sometimes copes with depression and isolation, both of which were exacerbated by the pandemic. Walking and exercise classes helped, as did social media.

“It did help to go on Facebook and connect with friends and see that I wasn’t alone in how I felt,” she said.

Jean Tsutsumi, 71, typically rides the T to cultural activities around the city, but has avoided mass transit since the pandemic began. She very much appreciated the cab ride to her vaccinations appointments, which were provided by Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.

Speaking shortly before her second vaccine appointment in early April, Cambridge resident Jean Tsutsumi expected she’ll remain cautious for the foreseeable future. That said, she’s looking forward to celebrating her 72nd birthday with friends in July.

“I definitely want to go out to Revere Beach when they open that up,” said Tsutsumi. “Heading over to Kelly’s Roast Beef to get an order of fried clams—I’m looking forward to doing those kinds of things again.”

The pandemic brought several changes for Tsutsumi. She didn’t own a computer in the spring of 2020, but got one to stay connected with her church group via Zoom. Normally, she enjoys hosting dinner parties and taking the T to enjoy cultural activities with friends. Those activities have been on hold, replaced by Netflix movies nights and walks in the local parks.

Socializing is important, she said, adding the vaccine is the quickest way to responsibly get back to that.

“For me, getting vaccinated means the freedom to go out and live a fairly normal life again,” said Tsutsumi.

Looking back, Tina Gram described 2020 as a year that just seemed to vanish. Before the pandemic, her routine centered on crafting ceramics at a local studio and teaching art at a Cambridge school. Then one day at the gym, she saw a news report that made her realize COVID was going to be a major problem.

Life as she knew it largely shut down. The gym and most other places closed, and walks near Fresh Pond became her primary recreation. There were a handful of trips to area museums, but mostly she stayed home. Ms. Gram remembered both good and bad from the experience.

“My life slowed down, and that was a good thing,” said Gram. “…It allowed me to enjoy what’s in my house and garden. It’s been a little lonely, but I’m a flexible person, and as an artist, I do find things to keep my brain going.”

Eventually the studio and school re-opened, on a limited basis. Ms. Gram took a crash course on Zoom as a way back to teaching. The classes no longer focus on her favored medium—clay—but she appreciates that Zoom helped her get back to a job she loves.

“That was a silver lining,” she said. “COVID gave me an opportunity to learn a new skill.”

Looking ahead, Ms. Gram expects to be on a plane to see her son in Kansas City in June. With any luck, he’ll be vaccinated then, too. Either way, she’s looking forward to reconnecting after a lengthy separation.

“I didn’t want to count the days, because that would just make it harder,” she said. “I am looking forward to herd immunity—the more people who get vaccinated, the better.”