CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- One week after the first COVID-19 vaccines started reaching long-term care facilities in North Carolina, families are eagerly waiting, hoping this will be a first step to reuniting with their loved ones.
Jennifer Chamberlain lives in Cary and before the pandemic, would travel to Greensboro at least once a month to visit her younger brother, Ed, who lives in a long-term care facility.
Since March, like so many other families, Chamberlain has only been able to see a pixelated image of her brother on a screen during regular video calls.
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"I have never in all my life gone this long without seeing my brother in person," said Chamberlain.
Ed will turn 45 years old this month and has been in the same group home since he was 18.
He has Down Syndrome and requires around-the-clock care. He's been in quarantine since the start of the pandemic, unable to see anyone in person, other than their mother and stepfather during outdoor, socially distanced visits.
"That was actually something we were really concerned about -- was he really going to understand that he can't hug? He can't touch other people?" Chamberlain said.
As long-term care facilities across the state have consistently experienced the highest numbers of cases and outbreaks since the start of the pandemic, Chamberlain said Ed's small, group home has been able to prevent the spread of COVID-19 without experiencing a single case among its residents and staff.
"We know it's the right thing, but it's really been one of the hardest things I've had to go through," she said about the strict safety measures in place.
Chamberlain's family got word just before Christmas that CVS would be administering a COVID-19 vaccine at Ed's group home in the New Year.
"Oh, I cried," she said. "My mom texted me and it was like that is the best Christmas present I could get."
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Even with the vaccinations, things won't be quite the way they were. The CDC still recommends that people who have received the vaccine continue to wear masks. COVID-19 vaccines help people develop immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19 without getting sick but studies are still being conducted on how effective the vaccine is at stopping transmission.
Chamberlain said her brother has the mental capacity of a 3-to-5-year old child; with their mom and stepdad as his guardian, they signed the consent forms to have him vaccinated, and if it were up to her, Chamberlain said she wouldn't hesitate to do the same.
"If we have the capabilities of protecting people, especially those that are more vulnerable, I think it's our responsibility to do that," she said.
Chamberlain said she's now trying to wait patiently for notification of the day Ed will get his vaccine. Until then, she said she's continuing to do her research and trusts that it will get her one step closer to reuniting with her brother.
"I look forward to embracing everything life is going to bring me," she said. "But I also look forward to physically embracing again, and Ed's going be one of the first ones I want to do that with."