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COVID-19 vaccine reactions not common at appointments, but anxiety is, nurse says

From anxiety attacks to tears of joy; Vaccinating Colorado one arm at a time
COVID-19 Vaccine.
COVID-19 Vaccine.(Allison Baker)
Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 10:16 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - “I don’t think 2020 will be a year we forget for various reasons, but I happen to think 2021 is also a year we won’t forget ... because we’re actually able to do something,” said Carolynn Carol Flynn.

Flynn, the nurse operations manager for UCHealth South Region Clinics, has vaccinated hundreds, if not thousands, of people for COVID-19. Unlike other vaccines, most of those appointments are filled with emotion.

One teacher she vaccinated burst into tears, even before Flynn got out the needle.

“She’s sobbing and she’s like, ‘Can I give you a hug? You just gave me my life back.’ And I’m like, ‘COVID be damned, Absolutely!’” Flynn said.

It’s experiences like these that remind Flynn, she’s doing more than just putting shots in arms.

“This past year, you want to know what we’ve all learned about this? We are a community and we connect through interactions. And when you get starved of those interactions, it starves the soul, it starves your person. And that need for coming back into some sense of normalcy and human connection, we are desperate and that’s what this is allowing us to do.”

As of April 10, 2,073,529 Coloradans have been vaccinated. The CDC released new guidance saying people who are fully vaccinated can get together with groups of other people who are fully vaccinated, without masks, giving a small picture of what life will be like again following the pandemic.

The thought of getting together is still anxiety-inducing for many people, especially those at high risk who have been cut off from most human interaction for a year.

Flynn says vaccination clinics are really revealing how much of an emotional toll that’s taken.

“We’re not seeing reactions to the vaccine. You know, what we’re seeing is anxiety. We’re seeing what has bubbled up over the last year of people being isolated and coming out into a pretty good size group of people. We’ve seen anxiety attacks more than anything. And we’ve had to intervene from a mental health standpoint, not so much from any COVID vaccine reactions,” she said.

It’s one of many reasons why she says her work is life changing. Flynn knows firsthand what it’s like to be scared of the virus and physically distanced from the world. She was diagnosed with cancer as the pandemic began. The moment she got her vaccine is also one she won’t forget.

“I remember I called my oncologist and said, ‘Hey, can I get it?’ and she’s like ‘Yes! You get it!’ So I did ... because I couldn’t get COVID. It would have been devastating. It was like a little blanket to wrap around you,” she said.

Flynn wants to be clear, though. Now is not the time for Coloradans to let their guard down. Thousands are still waiting to be vaccinated as we try to prevent new fast-spreading variants. As an ICU nurse during a portion of the pandemic, she’s also seen how painful the disease can be at the end of life.

“I would ask them to think about their loved ones. I would ask them to think about their mother, or their dad, or their children. And if they have the potential -- if they knew that they could expose them and make them gravely, seriously ill, is that something they would want on their conscience? And I would like to think that most people would not, and so the right thing -- the right thing to do for your loved ones is to wear a mask.”

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