‘I Didn’t Want to Be the First’: 73-Year-Old Miami Resident Shares COVID-19 Vaccine Story

María Josefa Gutiérrez

Courtesy of María Josefa Gutiérrez

Since the beginning of COVID-19 vaccine rollout, older adults have been at the top of the priority list due to their susceptibility for a severe case of the virus. Now, over 72% of adults 65 and older in the U.S. have received their first dose of the COVID-19, and 49% are fully vaccinated.

Among them is María Josefa Gutiérrez, a 73-year-old Miami, Florida resident, who received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on February 23. She has since received her second dose.

Gutierrez spoke to Verywell about her experience receiving the vaccine, overcoming her own hesitations about the vaccine, and why you should get vaccinated against COVID-19—if you can—once your turn arrives.

*This interview was initially conducted in Spanish and has been translated to English.

Verywell Health: You originally were hesitant to get the vaccine—what changed your mind?

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: At first, I said I wasn’t going to get vaccinated. I didn’t want to be the first. I would say, “No! I’m not going to be a guinea pig!” But as time went by, people more well-read on the vaccine than me started telling me to get vaccinated and not to miss my opportunity to get it. So we started looking to see where I could secure an appointment. And I made up my mind.

Because of my age, it would be difficult to overcome [COVID-19]. But honestly, after so much time spent in this pandemic, I’ve started to loosen my precautions. I used to clean everything when I got home from the supermarket. I washed everything with detergent and I wiped everything down with a Lysol wipe. I used to even wipe down my brother’s cigar boxes. I stopped doing this little by little. Because you get tired of doing all these measures.

Verywell Health: How did you go about securing your vaccine appointment?

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: My family told me that vaccines were now being administered and they were going to try to get me an appointment. They tried for a long time and couldn’t secure anything. Until one day they sent a link with a phone number so my sister and I could call. And we were lucky that the same day we called—it was around 8:30 a.m.—appointments were available for that same day. I went and received the vaccine without any difficulties at Jackson Hospital.

We had called many different numbers before and each time there were no available appointments. I had even added myself to a waitlist but they never got around to reaching out to me. My son and my grandson, Jose, as well as his girlfriend, had spent days fighting to secure an appointment. They would call me and help me try to figure out how to get an appointment until I was able to secure one through [a new phone number].

Verywell Health: What was getting vaccinated like? Tell me about that day.

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: The experience was excellent for me. It really surprised me. First of all, what shocked me was how organized it was. I compare it to visiting Disney World. When you go to Disney, you park your car and a tram is waiting to take you to the park. That level of organization that surprises someone on their first trip to Disney—it was like that.

There were so many people working and so many people guiding you. You didn’t need to know English—which is important for me since I don’t know English—because the staff was constantly behind you explaining everything. They registered me on a computer, then they sent me where I needed to go. After I received the vaccine, they sat me in a room to wait 15 minutes in case I felt bad. I had no delays; the process was quick.

I arrived around 11:17 a.m. because my appointment was at 11:30 a.m. And by 11:35 a.m. I was already leaving the site. It barely took 20 minutes.

Verywell Health: Did you experience any symptoms?

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: Nothing, nothing, nothing. It was as if they didn’t inject me with anything. I didn’t feel discomfort in my arm, and I didn’t experience any pain or fever. I was surprised because I know some people’s arms hurt after the vaccine. But I experienced absolutely nothing—not in the 10 minutes I waited there and not the next day.

Verywell Health: Do you think your life will start to go back to normal now that you’re vaccinated?

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: I think I’ll keep taking the same precautions, especially now with the talk of [variants]. It’s maddening, especially for people like us who shouldn’t go out. Last Sunday we were able to go out—we went to see the sunrise on the beach with our family. We can go to open-air places like the beach, but you can’t do the same thing every Sunday.

I haven’t gone to a restaurant since March 2020 when I went to Cheesecake Factory. I’m very old and I get bored here. All we do is watch soap opera after soap opera.

Verywell Health: What are you doing to stay healthy?

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: It calms me to know I’m already vaccinated, but I’m going to keep taking care of myself because I’m scared. I drink all my vitamins. When a doctor I know from Ecuador told me to drink 10 milligrams of vitamin D daily to reinforce my immune system, I drank them all.

Verywell Health: Any advice for someone considering getting vaccinated?

Maria Josefa Gutierrez: Well, I do not fear the vaccine. I trust in it and everyone, my friends and family, recommended I get it. I’m very happy that I received it because so far I have not had any problems. Look, if it turns out to not be that effective, we will see. But at least, I didn’t experience any symptoms which is what I was afraid of more than anything. I think that yes, everyone should get vaccinated and do your part to get vaccinated because it really gives you peace of mind to at least know you are a bit immunized. 

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker. Updated March 29, 2021.