Juan Herrera was against getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Nope, not me,’’ he told a nurse when he took his wife to a UCHealth vaccine clinic to get her first shot. Then he started talking a little more to the nurse, Adrienne Walsh, who was working in the vaccine clinic in Colorado Springs and doing everything she could to see people get vaccinated.
Much of Herrera’s vaccine hesitancy, he told Walsh during their meeting in early October, came from his experience as a Latino man growing up in Watts, a mostly Black neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. What he witnessed there led him to distrust government, and that factored in a big way into his choice not to be vaccinated.
“I was really against it,’’ the 56-year-old said of the vaccine. “It was a trust issue.’’
Trust issues with COVID vaccine
Walsh listened, and she heard him. And then Walsh spoke.
“She told me what she had seen, what the doctors and the nurses had been dealing with, and the fight that is going on behind the scenes, the things that we don’t get to see. And it made me think really hard about it, what she and others were going through, and the need for protection, not just for myself, but for others as well.
“She didn’t tell me everything, but I could see it in her eyes, you know,’’ Herrera said.
After that conversation, Herrera did some additional research, talked to his sister-in-law, who is a nurse, and considered the toll the virus had already taken on family and friends. The virus had nearly killed his brother, who is also battling colon cancer; and it took the life of his 68-year-old friend, a guy from the San Luis Valley who accompanied him and others on long rides on their Harley-Davidsons.
“We’re a rough group, but these are a good people, people who earned their way in life by the sweat of their brow,’’ Herrera said.
Setting aside distrust in favor of family
Another factor also motivated him. Getting the vaccine would enable him and his wife to continue to care for his mother-in-law, who has terminal cancer.
“We want to give her everything she could possibly need, and we did not want to get her sick. My wife is very, very close to her mother, and we want to be able to care for her until she is ready to rest,’’ he said.
Herrera and his wife, Vanessa, have been married 35 years. They have three children and 11 grandchildren. The family spends a lot of time cheering for the grandkids, who excel in wrestling and boxing in Colorado Springs.
“We go to all their activities. We break bread together, and we get kind of loud with each other. Whenever we have a chance to have a good time with each other, we do,’’ he said.
As a young kid, Herrera’s life was much different. He often heard his elders talk of the Watts riots. He lived through the era of Rodney King, a victim of police brutality, and recalls a few run-ins with police.
“Back then, we didn’t have cell phones. You had to have dimes in your pocket to call anyone. We’d get worked over by the rival gangs and it was definitely different, it was just what I was a part of,’’ he said.
Weighing the seriousness of COVID-19 with trust issues
Herrera, who works in transportation at a local university, said the longer he thought about getting the vaccine, the more he began to set aside the trust issues in favor of being there for his family and grandkids. Herrera has six brothers and two sisters.
His older brother, who lives in Missouri, barely survived COVID-19.
“We didn’t think he was going to make it. He had a severe temperature, and that put me over the top in terms of making the decision and wanting to be around my grandkids,’’ he said. “The other thing about COVID is you don’t know how bad it is going to be before you get it. You could have a runny nose, or be on a respirator. My brother was pretty sick for a while there, he is doing better now, thank God.’’
When it came time to get the shot, Herrera was still a little uneasy.
“I was pretty scared, and I was a little nervous,’’ he said. “I’d read about the importance of being hydrated, so I drank about a gallon of water and pink lemonade. I made sure I was hydrated.
“I never had any symptoms, it was basically like a blast on the shoulder, a little Charlie horse and a sore muscle for the first one. The second one, I was a sleepy head. I took a nap and woke up, and that was it,’’ he said.
In the end, Herrera got a shot because he believes it is the right thing to do, not just for him but others.
“It was tough for me to get it, but once I did the research, it made sense.’’