Post-Vaccine Reunions Are An Emotional Rollercoaster

April 26, 2020 – The day before Lisa Hardesty’s post-vaccination meeting with her 101-year-old grandmother, it was like the night before going to an amusement park as a child.

“I can’t wait to give her a hug,” Hardesty, 54, said a few days in advance. “The arousal level is like you are planning an exciting and stressful vacation until the night before and then you are so aroused you can’t sleep. We didn’t have this last year.

On the day of the reunion, Hardesty and her 17-year-old daughter Payton waited outside a restaurant in the town of Holloway, Minnesota, 97 residents, dazed with anticipation. When mother and daughter finally saw Elaine, 101, through a car window, they started running towards her “like she was a celebrity,” Hardesty says.

“They couldn’t even stop the car until we hugged it,” says Hardesty, a registered clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “Everyone was talking about everyone. We weren’t able to publish our stories quickly enough. It was such a joy.

With vaccinations happening at a much faster rate than expected, families and friends are reuniting safely after a year or more apart. Most of the meetings are filled with the joy, hugs and laughter described by Hardestys. But there is also worry and anxiety, especially before the events – and this is also normal, say psychologists and doctors.

“The social isolation and increased loneliness that people have experienced as a result of COVID-19 is one of the most devastating aspects of the pandemic,” says Scott Kaiser, MD, director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Now that vaccines have paved the way for a safe reunion, “there is a wide range of emotions. For the most part, it’s the relief, the exuberance and the joy of getting back together. But there are a lot of emotions in there.

Imagine a new mother bringing a baby home for the first time, Kaiser says. “Of course, other people want to meet the baby so badly,” he says. “And it can be great for mom and baby, but it can also be a double-edged sword.” The new mom, who has just undergone a massive change, wants to protect the vulnerable newborn – plus she’s probably exhausted. Now that we’ve all undergone massive changes, “we’re all still vulnerable,” Kaiser says. “We don’t know what people are going through physically and emotionally.”

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Jothi Venkat

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