• Lilja team

Why we chose to get vaccinated

On Mar. 30, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for everyone 16 and older in a bid to quickly vaccinate as many people as possible to help protect Minnesotans and end the pandemic.

Erica captures the moment after she received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Roughly two weeks later, the majority of the Lilja team has been fortunate enough to be (at least partially) vaccinated against COVID-19. As we shared our #gotmyshot stories with each other, we felt inspired to share them more broadly, in the hope that they inspire others to get in line and get their shot.


Kate Lilja Lohnes: I always knew I would get the COVID vaccine once it became available, trusting that even though the vaccine approval process was sped up, those gains were made by cutting red tape, not cutting corners on testing and safety. As someone who worked in government for 10 years, I understand exactly how bureaucracy can slow things down.


I spent my early career working in public health, where I navigated a very different sort of pandemic (H1N1 influenza) and attended a CDC pandemic training that immersed me in the realities of the 1918 pandemic. Because of this experience, I approached the pandemic with a healthy dose of caution, but also pragmatism. I had always known this could happen and accepted the odds. And in this case, the odds were that my family would be okay. I trusted the precautions put in place, such as mask wearing and social distancing, to help keep us safe. Our family was cautious, but also comfortable engaging in low-risk activities that helped us maintain our sanity.


I waited patiently for my turn to get a COVID vaccine and once Minnesota opened up eligibility to everyone 16 and older, I was ready to get my shot. On the way to my appointment, I belted out “My Shot!” from the Hamilton soundtrack (I can’t be the only person to do so!) and felt both overwhelmed and excited. Getting the first of two shots to protect me against COVID-19 certainly feels like a turning point. My odds of getting dangerously sick just decreased significantly — and will disappear after my second dose. I like those odds!


Alicia DeMatteo: Since the early days of the pandemic, it’s been clear that the best way out of this is through a widespread vaccination effort to get us to herd immunity. To get there, we need everyone eligible to get vaccinated, thus giving protection to the few that truly cannot be vaccinated because of age, allergies or other health reasons.


Before receiving the vaccine, I researched potential allergic reactions and compared the ingredients of the vaccine to my (rather lengthy) known allergen list. After some initial hesitation over an ingredient that sounded a lot like something I’m allergic to, I learned they are very different and there was no need for concern.


I was grateful to get one of the first appointments after I became eligible at a nearby pharmacy. It was a very low-key setting on a quiet Wednesday morning — just me and a chatty pharmacist! After my vaccination, he put me “on the honor system” to stay at the store to make sure I didn’t have a reaction. Fifteen minutes later with two bags of Sour Patch Kids and a Beanie Baby, I left with no reaction at all to my first dose of Pfizer. The only side effect was some drowsiness, or as my mom calls it, a “Pfizer nap.”


Erica Winegar: Getting vaccinated was a very personal and emotional milestone. It was the light at the end of the tunnel I had dreamed about when I was in lockdown with my family at this time last year. The inability to safely gather with loved ones was a tremendous blow. Between my husband and me, we have a large family, most of whom live in the Twin Cities. It was hard on our kids, too, who are accustomed to frequent visits with their cousins and overnight stays with their grandparents.


I am grateful our state expanded the vaccine eligibility to include people 16 and older because now most of our immediate family has been fully or partially vaccinated. It brings us all one step closer to resuming the different activities and traditions we’ve had on pause for so long.


Mary Lilja: I was randomly selected in one of the first statewide pilot programs for the vaccine in my age group. On Feb. 3rd when I received an email announcing that I could schedule an appointment, I was thoroughly shocked but managed to schedule an appointment for early the next morning. I felt like I’d won the lottery (and I’m someone who never wins anything!).


I’d listened to a December 2020 “This American Life” episode interviewing some of the U.S. scientists who’d spent years researching this particular kind of virus. Because of their work, when scientists in China posted the genetic code on the internet so teams around the world could work on it, they had the basics of a vaccine response figured out within an hour. And this was in January 2020! The rest of the year was spent testing, testing and retesting vaccines. I am so very grateful to these folks — our ordinary, extraordinary fellow Americans (and other scientists worldwide) — whose work made this vaccine possible. God bless them all, every one.


Lori Bowes: As a recent college grad, I’d been told time and time again how long I would have to wait for my age group to be eligible for the vaccine. Hearing that it opened up to people 16 and older in multiple states around the U.S., I was beyond thrilled. My boyfriend and I were lucky to nab an appointment 2.5 hours outside of Minneapolis; however, the drive (and the post-vaccine Culver’s celebration meal) was well worth it.


The only thing standing between me and a greater sense of freedom in these dark ages is one more prick to my arm, and I certainly can’t wait! I am immensely grateful to all of the amazing people in STEM and essential workers who have been tirelessly working toward creating the vaccine and its dissemination. I look forward to a safer and happier future for everyone!


Deeper dive


Are you hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine? Take a closer look at this excellent interactive Q&A with answers to all your COVID-19 vaccine questions from The New York Times.


Want more inspiring COVID vaccination stories? Check out this recent feature in the Star Tribune.