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As COVID-19 vaccination effort gets underway, Decatur’s Wardell Castles takes his shot

COVID-19 Decatur Metro ATL Trending

As COVID-19 vaccination effort gets underway, Decatur’s Wardell Castles takes his shot

Decatur resident Wardell Castles receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination from a healthcare worker at the Stonecrest vaccination site. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Stonecrest, GA — Wardell Castles, a Decatur resident for the last 30 years, got his COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

He drove to the Stonecrest vaccination site. He’s 70, in good health and has an easy way about him. He bantered with a Decaturish reporter all the way down I-285 and I-20.

The retired software developer’s home is in the city of Decatur. He knew Decatur when it wasn’t the place everyone wanted to be. He recalled when the CVS in downtown Decatur was an abandoned Chevrolet dealership.

“Yeah, I’ve seen some change,” Castles said.

These days, when he’s not enjoying his retirement, he works as a Cybersecurity Analyst specializing in small to medium companies and non-profits. In his spare time, customers pay him to break into their systems to show them where they are vulnerable. 

Due to his age, Castles is considered vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. According to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, “Adults 65 and older account for 16% of the US population but 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the US.”

Under the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, he qualified for Phase 1A+ which includes healthcare workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders and adults 65 and older.

Phase 1B will include essential workers who aren’t in healthcare and Phase 1C will include people aged 16 to 64 with medical conditions that increase the risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19.

Image obtained from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

According to the state Department of Public Health, 235,541 vaccines have been administered as of Jan. 13. There are two vaccines being administered: one by Pfizer and one by Moderna.

When DeKalb County opened its registration process for vaccines, all the available appointments were snatched up quickly with more than 13,000 booking their date with the needle. Registration is paused at this time.

Castles is one of the 13,000 who got an appointment. He laughed when asked how long it took him to sign up for his place in line.

“I kept hitting refresh on my web browser until the site came up,” Castles said. He tried to book an appointment at the BrandsMart USA parking lot in Doraville, but those appointments were full. “Somebody posted on my neighborhood group that Stonecrest had openings. I went back to the website, pressed refresh about 1,000 times, got back in and went to Stonecrest, my second choice.”

As he drove on the interstate, headed toward the former Sam’s Club parking lot at  2994 Turner Hill Road, Castles talked about how he has dealt with the stress of COVID-19.

The pandemic has affected Castles, but he hasn’t had it as bad as other people.

“It’s taken away basically a year of my life,” he said. “Because I can’t travel like I want to. I usually go to Jamaica in January. I usually take three-day trips with my girlfriend. We have staycations instead. But I’m thankful that I’m vertical, and I’m healthy. I’ve been extremely lucky.”

Did he have any concerns about getting the vaccine?

“I suppose I do,” he said, after a moment. “Only because it’s new and untested, and we don’t know how long the antibodies last, but you know the other option is not getting it at all.”

It should be noted that according to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines were tested in clinical trials involving thousands of people.

“There were no serious safety concerns,” the CDC says.

Castles was also concerned about his ability to get the second required dose of the vaccine with so many people waiting to get their first dose. But he said he heard the first vaccination provides at least some protection from the virus.

Did he think life would return to normal for him once he receives his second dose?

“I’m still going to be doing the same thing. Masking up, six feet distance,” Castles said. “I’m just getting a bigger mask.”

Would he recommend that others get the vaccine?

“I think that’s a personal choice,” Castles said. “I don’t want to impose my values on anybody else. Do your own research, make your own decision. I’m only doing it because I think for myself it’s the best thing for me.”

Then, he dryly added, “Am I going to grow a third arm as a result of the vaccine? I don’t know.”

Wardell Castles receives instructions about where to go to receive his COVID-19 shot at the Stonecrest vaccination site. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

At the Stonecrest site he was given an intake form by a person clad in a military uniform and personal protective equipment. He pressed the clip-board against the steering wheel and, using his own pen, checked off boxes.

After checking boxes on the form he said, “No. No. No. I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding.”

The reporter in the backseat noted, “Now that would be a news story.”

Castles laughed.

“You’d get a Pulitzer for that buddy,” he said, repositioning his clipboard against the steering wheel.  “I can’t laugh and write at the same time.”

The line at the COVID-19 vaccination site. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Finishing up his form, he handed it back and got directions to Lane 2 where he would wait for about 30 minutes before taking his shot. He also received a flyer detailing the possible side effects of the vaccine. The wait provided a good opportunity to review them.

The flyer told Castles he’d be getting the Moderna shot.

So what could he expect after getting poked with the needle?

“In most cases discomfort from fever or pain is normal,” the flyer said. “Contact your doctor or healthcare provider if the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours … Common side effects: pain, swelling, fever, tiredness, chills, headache.”

Castles laughed. “Hah. Great.”

“Side effects may feel like flu and affect your ability to do daily activity, but they should go away in a few days,” the flyer said. “With most COVID-19 vaccines, you will need two shots in order for them to work. Get the second shot even if you have side effects after the first one unless the vaccination provider or doctor tells you not to get a second shot. It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination.”

The flyer said the shots may not fully protect the recipient until a week or more after the second shot.

“It’s important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop the pandemic,” the flyer said.

A flyer showing the list of possible side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Castles has a son and a step-son and a niece he considers to be his daughter. She’s going to Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Later that evening, he planned to take her to see the lights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

After 30 minutes, a healthcare worker wearing PPE, who would administer the shot, came over and asked him some more questions. How was he feeling? What’s his name and date of birth? Has he ever had an allergic reaction to any other vaccines? Is he allergic to any drugs?

He drove up a little farther.

The healthcare worker approached again and asked if Castles had any questions. He said he didn’t.

He was told he’d need to come back in February for his second dose. He’d get an email with registration instructions. Then, the moment of truth.

“All right, here we go,” Castles said.

Castles bared his arm through the driver’s side window.

“Just relax,” the employee said, holding the needle. “And here we go.”

A needle went in and out of his arm, and then it was over. She slapped a band-aid on him and told him need to wait awhile before he could leave.

“Thank you ma’am,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

How long was he supposed to wait?

“Thirty minutes, she said,” Castles said. “I guess because I’m in the 65+ group?”

Other people are asked to wait 15 minutes. The people who have to wait 30 minutes are directed to a separate wait line. He was asked to keep his own time.

He picked up his phone and said, “Set alarm for 30 minutes from now.”

“OK, it’ll go off in 30 minutes,” the phone replied.

“Whoohoo,” Castles said.

How was he feeling so far?

“So far, so good,” Castles said as he drove to the 30-minute line. “I haven’t grown a third arm or anything.”

He said he didn’t feel any pain from the shot.

The next day, the reporter called him to check on him. Did he have any symptoms?

“My arm is a little sore, but other than that I’m perfectly OK,” Castles said.

Before the reporter hung up the phone, he said he wanted to add one more thing, for the record. He wanted to add to his answer about whether he’d recommend the vaccine to anyone.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Castles said. “I said that it’s a personal choice and I have a concern about what the long-term effects of the vaccine are. But then again we don’t know what the long-term effects of COVID are, assuming you even live through it.”

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