99-year-old Summit County veteran receives COVID-19 vaccine
Egon Gerson will turn 100 on Jan. 15
When Summit County local Egon Gerson was born in 1921, the world was just emerging from the throes of the Spanish flu pandemic.
In 2021, shortly before his 100th birthday, Gerson has been able witness the beginning of the end of another pandemic in the form of the novel coronavirus vaccine.
Gerson was one of the first in Summit County’s population of people over 70 years old to receive an initial dose of the vaccine at City Market in Dillon on Jan. 1.
“When you see all the TV ads and the notes in the paper, it’s very important that you get the vaccine,” Gerson said about his decision to get his shot.
Gerson, a World War II veteran and former emergency medical technician, said he knew that he wanted to the vaccine as soon as it became available.
Before the pandemic, Gerson didn’t spend much away from home. He had a one-day-a-week job at City Market in Dillon and would leave home for special occasions. However, the pandemic made the feeling of isolation intensify.
Aside from a few socially-distanced visits from friends over the summer when cases weren’t as bad, Gerson hasn’t been able to see much of anyone since March. He said he’s spent most of the time reading, playing solitaire on the computer and watching TV.
For Nancy Ronto, Gerson’s daughter, the experience has been stressful, and the vaccine came at just the right time.
“It’s reassuring for me,” Ronto said. “Now that he has at least the first shot, if he were to catch it hopefully it would not be deadly.”
Ronto is 69, just below the age cutoff for people who are qualified to get the vaccine. Because both she and her father are considered at high risk for severe illness, Ronto has been meticulous about following health guidance.
“Nancy is very careful,” Gerson said. “When you go to the store, you’d be surprised. People come up aisle, they don’t care if they’re 6 feet away from you. Nancy is very, very protective.”
Ronto said she’s been waking up at 6 a.m. to run errands when stores have fewer people. Even when she took Gerson to get a shot, she felt she needed to watch out for people who were in the store at the time.
“I kind of felt like I had to be a crossing guard at the grade school,” she said. “People come around the corners and they don’t look. They don’t stay away from you. You just have to be so careful. It will be nice when we don’t have to behave that way anymore.”
While the experience of the pandemic has certainly been difficult, Gerson said his experience fighting as a naval officer at Iwo Jima taught him about sacrifice for the greater good.
“That was a lot worse than anything I’ve been through now,” he said.
In March, in order to explain the severity of the pandemic to her father, Ronto compared it to the sacrifices that were made in the war by everyday people. Once the vaccine became available, she said Gerson was eager to get it.
“One of the reasons why he was in favor of getting the shot is because he realized not only would it protect him, but it would protect his community,” she said.
On Wednesday, Jan. 13, Gerson will be returning to City Market for his last day at the job. Before the pandemic, he planned to retire once he turned 100. Now that he has his shot, he feels comfortable saying farewell to his coworkers before his birthday on Friday, Jan. 15.
Gerson said people shouldn’t be wary about getting the vaccine. He said he had no side effects since he received the shot and trusts the medical professionals.
“I think people just don’t want to believe that there are people that research all of that and to listen to them,” he said. “Hey, they know more about it than you do.”
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