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The first attack came a few days before JT’s third birthday. He just lay there like a limp dishcloth, and every two minutes or so his body stiffened and went back downstairs. It took exactly 18 minutes for the ambulance to get here. It was the longest 18 minutes of my life. Nobody knew what was going on. Little did we know it was an epileptic fit.
JT is now 18 and has just started his senior year of high school. His epilepsy has been under control for a decade now, but I’ve been shamelessly with him all his life. I tell people that when my kid is over, I’ll be going from Southern Belle to Redneck in three seconds.
So when someone said, ‘I can’t believe that as a schoolteacher and a JT with an underlying disease, you weren’t vaccinated,’ it made me angry.
“When COVID first appeared, I kept saying that I would be first in line for a vaccine.
The pandemic made me so nervous and fearful. My elderly mother, who survived breast cancer, lived alone and I couldn’t visit her. My husband and I are diabetic. We closed the church, prayed online. It’s only been a miserable couple of months.
In July 2020 my sister who is a nurse fell ill with COVID and really almost died. Her temperature did not break for 16 days. You could just tell that she was so weak. We’d lost our other two siblings over the years and I called them and said, ‘You can’t leave me. You are everything I have.’
Sherry Clements Wilmot, center, with their son JT and husband Kurt, who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this spring. Sherry says, “Kurt believed I should have the vaccine too, but he didn’t argue with me. He said to me, ‘I know you’ve had problems with medication in the past and I know you’re scared to have.” ‘but every now and then he would say gently,’ I think you’ll be fine when you have it. ‘”(Courtesy Sherry Clements Wilmot)
Governor Brian Kemp opened the vaccine to Georgians with high-risk illnesses and people aged 55 and over in mid-March. But until then, I was determined that neither I nor my son would get it.
I had read so much information that I was scared. Countless social media posts from people I knew and trusted talking about rushing the vaccine that there wasn’t enough research. I made the mistake of watching YouTube videos where people who claimed to be doctors kept talking about how dangerous it could be and TikToks of people who call themselves “vaccine long-haul drivers” who talked about it discussed how they still had side effects months later. When you look at enough of it, you start to question your mind.
I have had allergic reactions to injections in the past. Progesterone gave me welts and raised red streaks from waist to toe, and I had bad experiences with (vitamin) B-12. I was so scared that I would have an anaphylactic reaction to the COVID vaccine that I would suddenly die. And if I am afraid to take it, I am certainly afraid that my child will take it.
“I had read so much information that I was scared. Countless social media posts from people I knew and trusted talking about how they rushed the vaccine … If you look at enough of them, you start to question your mind. “
Even so, most of my family members regularly urged me that I needed it. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been driving me insane with it for months. It went so far that one day I looked at her and said, ‘Okay, someday I’ll shoot the Daggum, and if I die of it I’ll have “I told you” written on my tombstone.’ I was so mad about it.
In the spring, Kurt got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at work. In addition to diabetes, he has high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and he thought it wise to do that. I watched him for about three days and waited for something to happen and it didn’t bother him at all.
Kurt firmly believed I should have the vaccine too, but he didn’t argue with me. He said to me, “I know that you have had some drug problems in the past and I know that you are scared,” but every now and then he said gently, “I think you will be fine if you get it . ‘
“Things kind of cooled off in early summer. You’ve rarely heard of anyone getting COVID and I thought if the numbers continued to fall I should be fine without the vaccine. But things started to explode in the weeks after July 4th, and it’s been getting worse ever since.
All I could think was, ‘I just can’t go through this again. I have to be proactive and find something I can do to protect myself and my family. ‘ And not only that, but after last school year off, I went back to the classroom as a reading interventionalist.
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It really struck me when a friend recommended that I write down the names of everyone I know who died of COVID-19. In two minutes, I had 21 names from people in tiny Irwin County and neighboring Ben Hill. Then she said to write down the names of everyone I know who died from the vaccine. Grilling. Zipper. Zero.
It was around this time that my husband and sister began to raise concerns about the fact that JT and I were not vaccinated. And I saw one of my best friends who had anaphylactic reactions in the past get the vaccine and do fine. That gave me a little courage.
But first I needed a trustworthy voice to weigh things up. We have worked with JT’s neurologists in Macon for 15 years and I have so much confidence in his expertise. I wanted to sit face to face with him.
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Of course, he immediately said he would get the vaccine. He told us that JT’s seizures could re-ignite if he got COVID and he looked at me and said, ‘Do you really want this all to start over?’
That was all I needed to know – that my child will be safer. But I couldn’t let JT get it if I didn’t get it first. I mean, I’m the kind of mom I popped my finger into when he was first prescribed amoxicillin to see how the liquid tasted.
Sherry Clements Wilmot (right) poses with Jean Moore of the Irwin County Health Department on Friday, August 27, 2021 after Clements received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine. (Courtesy Sherry Clements Wilmot)
I wish you could see the picture My son’s youth pastor went with me because she knew how scared I was. Here I am, this 60 year old woman who takes a 26 year old to pray for me. She held my hand and everything. I am so ashamed to say that it was very easy. I didn’t even feel the Moderna shot. I got it on Friday. On Sunday afternoon the pain was gone.
Two weeks later, JT received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Six days later, Kurt tested positive for COVID. The first question his doctor asked him was, “Have you been vaccinated?” When he said yes, we were told he would be fine. And guess what he was. He basically felt like he had a bad cold. We all had to quarantine because we were exposed, but JT and I both tested negative.
Although JT and I only got one dose of the vaccine when Kurt tested positive, I think the vaccine, by and large, did its job. It helped us not to get COVID and it helped my husband not to be hospitalized. Science took care of me, but my faith says God took care of me first.
“My family moved to Ocilla when I was in fifth grade. I’ve been here since then, aside from four years in college. It’s like Mayberry from the Andy Griffith Show – the kind of place everyone knows everyone else. I can probably tell you who is in our town of Otis.
In general, I’m not the one to stir the pot on social media. The very people who could get mad at me, go to church with, and work with. I teach their children. My husband is a member of the education committee.
I won’t care about people who don’t get the vaccine. I won’t look you in the face and say that you are stupid. I know that when people fought with me, I dug in my feet.
But if I can use kindness to say, ‘Let me tell you my story. I was just like you, I was scared. ‘ Maybe it will convince someone on that fence to do it. That made me want to share my family’s vaccination story.
It took me a long time to get there, but I’m so grateful that I did. “