At 90 years old, Fred Peeples has figured out his approach to an active life:

“Eat healthy, exercise, don’t do drugs and be nice to everyone.”

On Monday morning, he added one more step: Get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Peeples was among the first to receive a vaccine as Spectrum Health opened its vaccination clinics to the public.

“I feel great,” he said, after nurse Kelli Greer gave him the injection. “I feel like a million.”

A feeling of celebration hung in the air as people arrived for their vaccines, smiling and chatting as they registered, sat down and rolled up their shirt sleeves.

One woman said she would pray for everyone working at the clinic. Another hoped to provide an example to her children and grandchildren.

In response to the State of Michigan expanding eligibility for vaccination, Spectrum Health began vaccinating adults age 65 and older, as well as others who meet the criteria under Phase 1b of the state’s plan.

“The vaccine is a significant step forward in moving beyond the pandemic and ending the suffering and death so many have experienced because of COVID-19,” said Darryl Elmouchi, MD, President of Spectrum Health West Michigan.

Spectrum Health is launching vaccination clinics this week by appointment only in Grand Rapids, Greenville, Hastings and Zeeland. They expect to provide more than 21,000 COVID-19 vaccinations this week to the public, as well as to individuals in the state’s Phase 1a criteria, including independent doctors, dentists and their staff.

Working with community partners and area health departments, the Spectrum Health medical team plans to open additional vaccine sites across the region in the coming weeks. That will include clinics in under-represented communities.

“We are seeing overwhelming demand for the vaccine and ask for the community’s patience as we work as quickly as possible to schedule appointments and set up additional clinics,” Dr. Elmouchi said. “We understand that the vaccine represents hope for better days ahead, and a sense of normalcy for our lives and the economy.”

Missing gym workouts

Peeples was thrilled when he learned he could schedule his vaccine Monday.

“I about flipped,” he said.

He was grateful for “anything that might prevent me from getting COVID-19.”

An Air Force veteran and retired construction company supervisor, Peeples said he hopes to make it to 110 years old. Both his father and his paternal grandfather lived to be 100.

He has taken precautions to avoid the virus—wearing a mask, social distancing and staying home much of the time. And he has given up one of his favorite activities—working out at the YMCA.

Just hearing about Peeples’ exercise routine might leave you exhausted.

Every weekday morning, he went to the David D. Hunting YMCA in Grand Rapids—arriving at 5 a.m. He spent an hour on the rowing machine, used an ab roller and lifted 30-pound dumbbells.

Peeples exercises at home now, but he hopes one day to return to his YMCA routine. He misses his early-morning workout buddies.

“That is the most exciting group of people that I have ever met,” Peeples said. “To see them five days a week is like therapy.”

‘Peace and joy’

Carolyn Frazier, 75, also felt excited to receive a vaccine Monday morning.

With allergies and asthma, she worries about protecting her lungs.

“If I contracted the virus, I don’t know how it would work out for me,” she said. “I don’t want to find out the hard way.”

She hopes the vaccine will reduce her chance of getting COVID-19—or reduce the severity of illness if she does become infected.

She looks forward to a post-pandemic life when she will feel comfortable going back to activities she loves—like going to church or seeing a movie with a friend.

And she hopes to continue a healthy, active life.

“I want to have peace and joy and happiness,” she said. “I want to continually be in a state of mind where I am independent.”

‘So precious to me’

The night before she received the vaccine, Alice Virginia Johnson said she felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, too excited to sleep.

Johnson, 72, said she prayed for everyone working at the clinic, as well as all those receiving vaccinations.

“And I pray for my friends who are afraid to get the vaccine,” she said.

Because of the pandemic, she has kept distance from her family, which includes nine children, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

“I want to be able to be with them and share things with them,” she said. “They are so precious to me.”

The pandemic, she said, has been a nightmare. “But we have a glimmer of hope right now.”

The injection didn’t hurt, Johnson added.

“I am already looking forward to the next one.”

Saving lives

Nancy and Charlie Walker, of Cascade Township, celebrated their 50th anniversary on Christmas Day.

On Monday morning, they arrived together at the clinic for their COVID-19 vaccines.

“We haven’t hugged our grandchildren in a year,” Nancy said.

But she was quick to say their sacrifices pale compared to the illness and loss others have endured.

The real value of the vaccine, she said, “is saving lives going forward.”

A sense of safety

Hop Doan, 77, felt especially eager to get the vaccine because he has Parkinson’s disease. He worries about how COVID-19 could complicate his illness.

He and his wife, Thuhoa, sat in cubicles near each other as they each received their injection.

“It was OK,” Hop said. “I take the flu shot every year. It was the same.”

The vaccine brought peace of mind, the couple said.

“I feel happy,” Thuhoa said.

“I feel more safety,” Hop said.