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How Richmond woman with 'invisible' illness got COVID-19 vaccine: 'This is life saving'

'I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning for my vaccine appointment'
Posted at 12:13 AM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 13:01:35-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Mel Pruett, who has been living in fear for the past eleven months, recently drove to southwestern Virginia to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine after a friend tagged her on social media about potential appointments.

“It was really scary to go to the grocery store for the first time, even going out to my car. I remember holding my breath because I was so scared,” said Pruett. “I am somebody that cannot get sick. It can literally kill me”

The Richmond woman takes no chances when it comes to coronavirus. She lives with a debilitating underlying condition called POTS. It stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.

“I know that I look healthy, like a normal 20-something-year-old, but that is an invisible illness, an invisible condition that affects your whole body,” Pruett explained. “It affects your heart, it affects your blood pressure, it affects your cognitive thinking.”

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Mel Pruett

RELATED: Richmond woman raises awareness for 'invisible' illness

And it also makes her vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Therefore, if I do have an infection, I would essentially die,” Pruett said.

But her fears will end soon.

When Walgreens first opened up COVID vaccine appointments in Virginia, Pruett was able to claim one.

She said a friend tagged her in a post on Facebook alerting her about appointments five hours away in Pennington Gap in the southwestern part of the state.

“I woke up at 2 o’clock in the morning for my vaccine appointment, had to drive through Tennessee,” Pruett recalled.

While Pruett qualified for category 1B because of her pre-existing condition, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has asked all pharmacies administering shots to prioritize seniors 65 years of age and older.

So how did Pruett and other Virginians under 65 get appointments?

RELATED: Preregister for the COVID-19 vaccine on the Vaccinate Virginia website

“It did take us a couple days to figure out exactly how that will work logistically,” Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine leader, said.

Avula said when additional pharmacies were added to a federal vaccine program, coordination details were still being finalized.

“In the meantime, we did not want people to be sitting on vaccine or hold off on vaccinating communities while they had this vaccine,” said Avula. “So we said go ahead and use whatever process you all want for the first few days.”

Starting Monday, Avula said pharmacies will book appointments using the statewide pre-registration system established by VDH.

In a statement, a Walgreens corporate spokesperson said the pharmacy will follow direction from VDH to prioritize people over 65. Walgreens will not cancel appointments already made by people under 65.

While Pruett waits for her second dose, she says she’s looking forward to putting her life back on track.

“I feel as though this is like, you know, a second chance at life almost,” Pruett said. “This is life saving.”

Pruett credits social media for helping her find an appointment, and wants to encourage others looking to get a shot to utilize social media as a tool to help others.

She hopes to get her second dose closer to home.

There is not currently a residency requirement for vaccines, but VDH encourages those to get a shot in their local health district since allocation is based off geographical population.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.