VACAYA 2020: A Look Back & Ahead
By Randle Roper

 

Early on in the pandemic, we realized how devastating a prolonged Covid-19 battle could be for the travel industry. With trips likely to be cancelled or postponed, VACAYA was challenged in myriad ways, with our very survival on the line. We didn’t have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines waiting for others to ultimately determine our fate. So we got into the game.

First, our focus was on those among us who were hit quickest and hardest – our entertainers. As theaters and performance venues began to shut down, we recognized our entertainers would soon all be out of work. From that, our Saturday Night Spotlight series was born. It ran longer than any of us had hoped (and as it turns out, not nearly long enough at over 3 months), but it raised tens of thousands of dollars for our performers.

Then came our guests, whose trips would soon be affected by the ever-worsening conditions. Through myriad face-to-face Zoom calls and lots of difficult discussions, we found the right path forward for nearly everyone and for the business. By October, we were the first LGBT+ travel company to successfully host a safety-protocol-driven event, our VACAYA Oasis Resort trip down in Mexico.

In addition, three Vacayans put themselves on the front lines – both figuratively and literally – by participating in the Pfizer Vaccine Trial.

No doubt you’ve heard the news the FDA has approved Pfizer’s new vaccine for emergency use in the US (following the same approvals in the UK, Canada, Bahrain, and Mexico). Pfizer’s vaccine and Moderna’s soon-to-be-approved vaccine are what will ultimately pull us all out of the darkness of the past year. The light at the end of the tunnel will continue to grow brighter and brighter over the next few months until we’re finally in the clear late spring.

We recognize these vaccines have been politicized in countless ways. For some, that politicization has led to doubts about the vaccine. The Vacayans didn’t sit on the sidelines at the start of the pandemic and we can’t do that now, either. So today we share our first-hand vaccine trial accounts with you in hopes that “knowing someone” who’s been through the gauntlet might help you with your decision…

 

Tracy Terrill
VACAYA Co-founder

“Like most people, I felt powerless over Covid. As a highly social person who loves to travel, the idea that a global pandemic could stop the world for several years was terrifying. In order to calm my fears, I decided I needed to know more about Covid. I’d spend hours a day scouring the internet to find developing news and research on transmission, treatments, and ultimately vaccines. Learning about mRNA technologies (which Pfizer and Moderna is based on) presented an incredible opportunity to medicine – beyond just this vaccine. By the time clinical trials were available, it was something I had some apprehension about, but felt compelled to volunteer.

“mRNA technology opens up an entirely new and exciting future for medicine. Customized mRNA therapies based on our individual DNA to fight some of the worst diseases is on the horizon. And when the next pandemic happens (hopefully long from now), we have a proven way to create and mass produce vaccines. This isn’t the old egg-incubated flu vaccine of the past.

“My first injection felt as if someone had slugged me in the arm. That lasted a few days. After the second injection, I woke up that evening with a low-grade fever and body aches. I was excited. Having a 50% chance of having received the placebo, I was happy to know my body was likely responding to the vaccine and creating antibodies. I’d learn a few weeks later when going to a routine medical appointment where they tested me for both active infection and antibodies, that I was positive for Covid antibodies, which I wasn’t before the trial.”

Tracy offers this bit of sage advice, “Please look further than the headlines. I’ve been annoyed to see how many articles are written that create doubt and concern. Generally, when you read further than the click-bait headline or reference it to other fact-based sources, you’ll find you’re being taken on a roller coaster that just isn’t necessary. We saw that this week with the concern from the UK regarding allergic reactions to the vaccine. If you read the headlines, you’d likely get worried. You’d start asking yourself about your hay fever allergies (and the like) as it related to the vaccine. In truth, the advisory was for vaccine recipients instructing them to let their provider know if they’ve had strong allergic reactions to medications in the past. That’s no different than what’s asked on the flu vaccine consent form many of us do annually. All providers of the vaccine have the appropriate medications to stop an allergic reaction immediately – just as we’ve done with every vaccination administered in the past four decades.”


 

Ronnie Jones, Jr.
Vacayan

“I think it’s extremely important as an African American male that there’s someone visible in the community who can attest to having the vaccine. There’s a lot of fear out there based on the Tuskegee Experiment from decades ago. This unfortunate study has really scared a lot of Black people into not wanting the vaccine… and all for the wrong reasons. Personally, I don’t compare the two. This pandemic is fundamentally different and getting vaccinated is necessary for the safety of all mankind.

“As a Black male also living with HIV (undetectable), it was important to see the effects of how Anti-Retroviral medications react with the Covid-19 vaccine, and to see if there are any parallels with how symptoms of Covid-19 may be suppressed due to those particular medications.

“Working in the travel (Flight Attendant and Vacayan) and massage therapy industries, safety was top of mind when I chose to participate in the Pfizer Trial. I am constantly in close proximity to others, including through touch. So to put my clients at ease, I’ve disclosed my participation in the Trial and what the journey has meant to me being able to be a part of history.”

Ronnie speaks to his fears, “There’s always fear of the unknown. I quickly got past that when I started to meditate and listen to my inner voice. My intuition was telling me that this is the right time and the right moment. Once I accepted that inner peace and the ability of letting go of that fear, everything started to fall in place as it was meant to be. My best advice is to learn to let go of things that don’t serve you any purpose. That includes fear.”

In regard to learning he had antibodies, Ronnie shares, “I asked my two colleagues Tracy and Randle if they had any symptoms after the injections. Both informed me of a slight low-grade fever after the second injection. To my surprise, I didn’t experience a fever like they had. Two weeks after the second injection, I decided to schedule an appointment with Helix Urgent Care for a Covid-19 Antibody Test. I received my results via phone two days later and was informed that I was REACTIVE with Antibodies. I was extremely happy to know that I had received the real vaccine and not the placebo. A huge weight was definitely lifted.”

Ronnie’s final thoughts: “The vaccine is quick: 2 doses, 3 weeks apart. It’s imperative you follow the vaccine schedule. As soon as you have the chance to get the vaccine, I’d seize that opportunity. At some point in the near future, Covid-19 vaccinations are likely to be required for travel to certain destinations, so best to be prepared instead of being caught off guard. Lastly, please remember the sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normal.”


 

Randle Roper
VACAYA Co-founder

“I couldn’t think of any other way I could help in such a profound way. We were watching the travel industry crumbling around us and I knew the only way out of this would be if an effective vaccine was developed. While my sphere of influence certainly isn’t huge, I wanted to provide those I love and care about a path forward lined with my own first-hand vaccine experience and the knowledge base that’s come with it. I recognized that trust, comfortability, and faith – especially in this crazy age of disinformation – were bound to be important drivers as we all enter this new frontier. 

“I had my first injection in August. I didn’t really have any side effects. There was pain in the injection site for a couple days, but being a diabetic and a constant pin cushion, it wasn’t dissimilar to pain I’d felt before – slightly worse than a flu shot, but not as bad as a tetanus shot. Other than the arm pain and a slight fever, all was good.

“The Pfizer Trial is a double blind trial – meaning neither the participants nor the administrators know who among us got the actual vaccine versus the placebo. I was impatient and couldn’t wait to know which I’d gotten, so I went to LabCorp for an antibody test. I’d had a negative test just before the trial started, so I knew if I had antibodies now that I’d received the vaccine. I was elated to learn I was loaded up with antibodies. It was such a relief. It was kind of like finding out you have a superpower. Sure… I still wore my mask and shield everywhere, but I knew I was protected inside. It was liberating.

“Back in the late aughts, I participated in the drug trials for the medications that would later become PrEP. So to now have participated in two successful trials that have shaped (or will shape) our world is pretty gratifying.”


 

The decision to vaccinate or not is a personal one, of course, and VACAYA stands by your side no matter which decision you make. We just hope you’ve found these first-hand accounts helpful as you weigh your options.

Here are a few further considerations as you make your decision:

  • The study of mRNA vaccine technology began in 1995 (not 2020, as many think) with the work of Katalin Karikó. Covid-19 simply provided the driver for taking this particular vehicle onto the roadway of options. #GoLadies
  • Never before in human history has there been such a coordinated singular effort by scientists to solve a problem. That has led to a record pace of real-world trials, approval, and implementation – all backed by groundbreaking science.
  • Antibodies begin appearing approximately 10 days after the first (of 2) vaccine injections.
  • “The benefit of getting the vaccine is much greater than the risk of getting Covid-19.”   – Dr. Anthony Fauci
  • The vaccine trials continue through 2022, with all participants regularly monitored to study long-term efficacy and effects.

The following links provide a good summary of the vaccine’s development history, as well as details regarding its roll out:

Obviously we can’t wait to see everyone on one of our trips. Whether you join us for Ptown, Iceland, Mexico, New Orleans, the Caribbean, and/or Costa Rica, we are incredibly thankful for your support during these unprecedented times.

We all successfully embraced #AdaptToLive and because of that, we’ll soon begin living again. We can’t think of anything worth celebrating more as we close out 2020. ❤️

Comments

  1. Randle and your entire crew as well as all the vacayans. You have provided a much needed positive boost to my morale, personally. And I can state, without hesitation, that I’ll be back! With the promise of an eventual successful defeat of covid-19 with the present and future vaccines, I am more hopeful and excited about all of our futures. Everyone keep up the great work. I appreciate each and every one of you.

  2. I am so thankful for you all participating in trials. I have signed up just waiting to hear for my acceptance in a new trial for Johnson & Johnson thru St. Jude in Memphis. However, if I can get either Pzier or Moderna before hand, I will be the first to stand up to get the vaccine. I want to get all the vaccines I can for everything. Anything to help the cause & get us back to traveling safely I will do.
    Sending all Vacayans a very merry xmas & happy new year.
    hugs as always from your favorite “Cat Daddy” steve Solomon!

    • It’s been an absolute honor being able to participate and we hope you get your shot, too, Cat Daddy! Happy happy Christmas, Steve. ❤️

  3. We can’t thank you all enough for giving us hope in this bleak year. We look forward to iceland and costa rica. wishing everyone a “merry christmas ” , happy holidays and a safe and happy new year. keep up the good work(s)

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