MERIDEN — While COVID-19 vaccines have become easily available locally, many residents’ friends and families around the world do not have the same opportunity.
That’s what led Liliana Oyuela and her family to come from Colombia to Connecticut to get vaccinated.
The family is friends with Maria Campos Harlow, executive director of United Way of Meriden and Wallingford. Harlow helped them arrange vaccine appointments and was a witness to their tears of joy as they received the shot.
Oyuela, a lawyer, explained that in Colombia vaccines were only available for residents 70 years or older in May.
Oyuela and her husband are 47. She said they thought they would have to wait a while before getting their COVID-19 shot.
That’s why Oyuela, her husband, and her sister decided to come to the United States to get vaccinated. Oyuela has two children ages 11 and 13, who also traveled to the United States. The 13-year-old was also able to get vaccinated.
The adults got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a Stop & Shop in Stratford and the 13-year-old got a Pfizer shot in New York. He had the virus in January, so their doctor said he would be OK with just the one shot, Oyuela explained.
“He was very happy,” she said about her son.
Oyuela — who admitted not being typically emotional — said she and her sister shed tears of happiness as they got their shots, feeling “blessed” and “fortunate” for the opportunity.
They made the vaccine moment memorable by taking video and pictures.
Oyuela said the trip to the U.S. was expensive, but they made it a priority because they really cared about getting the vaccine.
She said Colombia was not only behind in the vaccine rollout but at that point people could not choose which brand of the vaccine to get.
In addition, the country is not allowing a second shot until five weeks after the first shot, Oyuela explained.
She said some people are concerned as they don’t know if the vaccine would work as it should after having people wait that long.
She said that to get the shot without an appointment there are long lines and the process of making the appointment isn’t easy either.
“It is an incredible contrast to see how things roll out here and how they roll out in our countries,” Harlow said.
She said that despite the rush when vaccines started to be offered, the process here was “absolutely wonderful.”
She said at this point, whoever wanted to be vaccinated is now vaccinated because the shot is easily available.
Harlow stressed it’s “heartbreaking” to see how the vaccine rollout moves so slow in other countries.
That’s why she didn’t think twice when her friends in Colombia reached out to see if she could help them arrange vaccine appointments in Connecticut.
“For me, it wasn’t anything, I mean, you make an appointment, you go and you get the vaccine and it was no big deal,” she said. “But when they came, while they were getting the vaccine, they had tears in their eyes.”
Harlow said that was an “enormous” moment for her because it made her realize “how fortunate we are” and how difficult the situation is in other countries.
She said her friends were incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
She hopes people — particularly those who are hesitant to get the vaccine — realize how fortunate people in the United States are to have easy access to the shot.
While the vaccine administration process has been slower in some countries, others are now up to speed. In the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, those age 12 and older are now eligible to get the vaccine. In Peru, the vaccine is available to adults only.