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Vaccines mean I can see my big sister with special needs soon. What do they mean for you?

Returning to a new normal means something different for each of us. But no matter who you are, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is an important first step.

For my older sister Jennifer, her normal means returning to weekly bingo games at the Tacoma Area Coalition for Individuals with Disabilities (TACID). It also means she can rejoin her Special Olympics bowling team.

Last week, Jennifer and her housemates received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Like so many people in Pierce County, knowing my loved one was vaccinated, I felt a pure jolt of hope for the first time in months.

I never thought I’d see the day Jennifer would be happy to receive a shot. But after the mobile pharmacy team drove away from her adult family home in Lakewood, Jennifer called me to say, “Sis, I got my vaccine, and I didn’t even cry.”

“Really?” I asked in disbelief.

Jennifer—11 months my senior—has Wiliams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes developmental delays and affects many parts of the body. She’s always visited the doctor frequently, and never liked doing so.

I remember holding her hand in the back seat of the family station wagon on the way to one of her medical check-ups. From the front seat, our mom made the usual bargain: “Be a brave girl, Jennifer, and we’ll get ice-cream.”

The thought of something chocolate made me sit up straighter, but there wasn’t an ice-cream sweet enough to take away my sister’s fears.

Luckily, things have changed since then. My sister wasn’t afraid to get her COVID-19 shot. In fact, she was looking forward to it. She knows the vaccine gets her, and all of us, closer to the day we can all be together.

For Jennifer that means one day soon, she can take the Pierce Transit shuttle over to my house for weeknight suppers and Saturday kitchen dance parties.

She can resume activities with Metro Parks’ specialized programing, like cooking classes, campouts and karaoke night.

The best part is, I will no longer have to stand outside her adult family home and visit her through the window.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services says it’s working on changes to the visitation guidance for people in long term care, which means indoor visits and hugs are in our near future.

Jennifer says she’s dreaming of going to a restaurant and eating spaghetti. And, like old times, she wants to ride in the car with her favorite dance music cranked up on the radio.

Last week we got closer to that dream. Other than a little one-day soreness in her arm where she got her shot, Jennifer is feeling fine.

When I asked her where we should go after we both get vaccinated, she didn’t hesitate before answering: “Ice cream!”

Oh, yes, Sis. Double scoops all-around.

This is a hopeful time for everyone. Your turn is coming soon. You can find upcoming community vaccine events, pharmacies and local healthcare providers with vaccine appointments at

Karen Irwin puts her hand up to a window as her sister does the same from the inside at the adult home where her sister lives during COVID-19 restrictions on visitations.