Roseburg woman rolls up sleeve after loss of two friends

Tammy Castleman of Roseburg

“I was terrified of the vaccine,” said Tammy Castleman, 57, of Roseburg. “In all fairness, I’ve always been terrified of any vaccine, and have received them (some) reluctantly at best. I’ve never even had a flu vaccine. I don’t fear needles, but what’s in them; whether that’s entirely rational or not.”

Castleman is a medical technician who decided to take a year off work for the first time in 30 years, as many people did during COVID-19, to reevaluate her life in general.

“I am overweight and have high blood pressure, so that put me in a higher risk group had I contracted COVID-19,” said Castleman. “So, for the most part, I stayed home.”

Within six months of the pandemic, she’d lost two friends to COVID-19. Fran and Rhonda “Ronnie.” Both were in their early 60s and neither had underlying health conditions.

Photo of Fran, provided by Tammy Castleman

Both of them died before there was a vaccine available and left behind children and grandchildren.

“When the vaccine became available, I was not first in line to sign up for it, especially given the new technology involved and the emergency use authorization status,” said Castleman. “I found these factors to be frightening, and I threw myself into research. In the end, I came to understand that everything is new at one time or another. Had people shunned the newness of penicillin (born in a blob of mold!), imagine the lives that would have been needlessly and senselessly lost.”

Her cousin Sylvia, 90, told her how excited everyone was when the polio vaccine first came out. There was no “vaccine hesitancy” then, Castleman said.

“When you lived in a world where you watched the child next door die and the children in your own school who survived but would never walk again,” said Castleman. “Sometimes you have to look at history to make a decision. We have learned to question everything, and it’s okay to do so, but it is folly to make a decision based on ‘what if’s’ when the answer to that question exists right in front of us in the history books and in our local cemeteries.”

Photo of Rhonda “Ronnie,” provided by Tammy Castleman

In the end, she said it came down to recognizing that COVID is here and we have choices to make. We can choose one risk or we can choose the other.

“Research and hard science put vaccine risk at a very, very tiny number; much, much less than the risks associated with COVID, including long-haul COVID, and unknown ongoing deficits caused by the disease,” said Castleman. “You can walk into the vaccine on your time and your terms, choosing to protect yourself and others, or you can let COVID choose if, and when, to walk into you.”

Castleman rolled up her sleeve for Fran, Rhonda and, she says, for all of those (millions) of lives lost and damaged by the disease that “most of them never had the opportunity to be vaccinated against.”

She received her first Pfizer vaccine on April 24 and her second dose on May 22. She says she suffered absolutely no side effects other than a tolerably sore arm.

Tammy says her healthy and athletic 34-year-old nephew was vaccinated at the same time and also had no side effects.

“It is my hope that my personal experience influences even one person in this fight against COVID. I will do anything I can to help increase our vaccination rates,” said Castleman. “I do hold the ‘unique’ perspective of a person who is absolutely phobic about taking medications of any kind, especially the injectable types. My physician would vouch for this. So, I do very much understand the ‘fear factor’ for a lot of people; which is utterly compounded by the vast conflicting positions and interests at hand.”

Tammy Castleman says in the end, critical thinking is necessary in choosing where to place that fear.

“COVID is the invader,” said Castleman. “There should not be a war against the vaccine.”

Get vaccinated

Vaccination remains the safest and most effective way for all people in Oregon to get back to doing the things they love. If you are 12 or older, visit OHA’s Find a COVID-19 Vaccine in Oregon webpage to schedule your vaccine appointment today.