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For these lifelong friends in Lenawee County, the vaccine doesn’t just bring safety, it brings company at the end of a lonely year.

ADRIAN, Mich.—For 50 years, they’ve done everything together. A small group of close-knit friends in Lenawee County, they’ve been together through thick and thin. Through the highs and lows of life. But the pandemic put everything on hold for Kathy Raines and her group of lifelong friends, leaving them isolated. 

“We travel together, eat together, laugh together, b***h together,” Raines told The ‘Gander. “We support each other in all things. We miss each other like crazy!”

Born and raised in Adrian, Raines has found herself isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, but now sees hope on the horizon. She and her friends are getting vaccinated. And they already know what they’ll do when they can see one another again.

“We are going to have a cake potluck,” she said with a laugh.

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Raines isn’t alone. For a lot of older adults, the vaccine is more than just a potential literal lifesaver, it’s a quality-of-lifesaver. 

The isolation of the pandemic has been hard on older Americans especially. Since very early in the pandemic, it became apparent that social connections fading or changing was leaving a lot of Michiganders with a deep loneliness. Studies show that, in turn, led to more memory loss and deteriorating physical and mental health in older adults. 

Raines’ cake potluck is fundamentally important, then. And it’s possible thanks to vaccinations. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that fully vaccinated people—that is, people with one Johnson & Johnson vaccination or two Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations—still have to wear masks and social distance in public, but in indoor spaces with other fully vaccinated people those precautions aren’t necessary. 

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“It’s a really important first step in getting back to normal for so many older adults, particularly now, having the chance to visit with family and friends,” Kathleen Cameron, senior director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Center on Aging, told ABC.

And in Lenawee County, Raines is far from the only one looking forward to reuniting. Caroline Foley also is looking forward to reuniting with friends. She wasn’t sure what they’d do first, but she knows it’ll be something to look forward to.

“We love to go out to dinner, the movies, have bonfires, game nights, cook outs,” she explained to The ‘Gander. 

Foley, a florist, also works as a sous chef at an assisted living facility in Adrian, so she sees the social isolation older Michiganders face on a regular basis. The vaccine has been changing that, slowly but surely. 

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Bev Colby Averill is excited to see her grandchildren again. She hasn’t seen them since 2019. And she thinks that with vaccinations and masking she’ll see them soon, though admits frustration with people who might be setting that goal back by not following pandemic protections, which would leave her family isolated that much longer. 

She uses hand sanitizer frequently, always wears her mask, and is fully vaccinated. Seeing people not treat the pandemic seriously upsets her.

“I want to haul off and smack some sense into people who aren’t wearing a mask,” Averill told The ‘Gander. “It is not rocket science, wear the mask over your nose and mouth! You can believe it’s a hoax all you want, that is your right, just humor the people with medical degrees and wear the mask.”

That way, she hopes, she can be part of her grandchildren’s lives again.