Maria Aulenbacher’s first pandemic was the 1919 Spanish flu. Now 111, South Carolina’s oldest resident wants to be protected for this pandemic, which is why she and her 70-plus daughter and son-in-law all got their COVID-19 vaccines together at Prisma Health.
The Upstate family received their first dose of the vaccine last week and were among the first 100,000 people to be vaccinated through Prisma Health, which has administered the most Pfizer vaccinations of any health provider in South Carolina. The healthcare system is now operating two mass-vaccination sites and 11 hospital or community-partnership sites across the Upstate and the Midlands.
“I’m just happy to have this opportunity to help keep healthy and keep everyone around me healthy,” said Aulenbacher, who flashed a thumbs up after getting the vaccine last week at Prisma Health’s mass-vaccination site in Greenville. “I can’t wait until I can hug my great grandson again. I look forward to our family safely all being together. I have missed hugging my great grandson, Alex.”
Aulenbacher was the oldest of six children and had lived in Germany until a decade ago, when she moved to the Upstate to live with her daughter, Birgit Dickerson.
Dickerson, 77, said her mother wanted to get the vaccination to show that anyone and everyone should take it in order to combat the global pandemic.
“We feel we are doing our part,” Dickerson said. “This was a very easy process, and everybody was wonderful. As a family, we all have all thought of our healthcare and frontline professionals throughout the pandemic, our thoughts have been with them. We are so grateful to them for all they have done and the sacrifices they have made.”
As for Aulenbacher, the family said her secret to a long life is staying active and reading historical books and non-fiction every day. She also enjoys a glass of red wine with lunch and beer with dinner.
And now, says granddaughter Christina Dickerson, that secret includes getting vaccinated for COVID-19.
“She just wants to do whatever she can to keep moving forward,” said Christina. “She knows what it’s like to have a horrendous day, and she feels blessed for every good day that she has. She had no hesitation with getting the vaccine at all.”
“Anyone with older, more vulnerable family members knows how terrifying this past year has been. It’s just been awful. And, now, we finally have a glimpse of light and being able to take steps to return to some kind of normality. We know that we all need to continue to take smart precautions – as well as getting them their second doses – but, really, this just feels like the start of a turning point.”
Aulenbacher was proclaimed the state’s oldest living resident at age 110.
Dr. Saria Saccocio, Prisma Health chief medical officer for ambulatory services and co-chair of the system’s vaccine task force, called Aulenbacher a “true vaccination hero.”
“This wise woman is setting the example for all of us. I hope everyone will follow her lead and roll up their sleeves to get their own shots when eligible,” said Saccocio.
“But let’s all remember that community immunity will take time, especially since we don’t anticipate vaccines being widely available for all age groups until the summer,” she said. “For the time being, we all need to continue to socially distance, wear masks and wash hands often. If you’re sick, please stay home and contact your healthcare providers to what see what next steps are best for you.”
For more information on Prisma Health’s vaccination efforts – including new appointment booking options, limited walk-in appointments and one-on-one telephone assistance for those without computer access – visit www.PrismaHealth.org/Vaccine.
Scheduled appointments remain the fastest way to move through the vaccination process, but Prisma Health opened the additional walk-in options to help ensure equitable and fair distribution of the vaccine.
Updates on walk-in availability are posted on www.PrismaHealth.org/Vaccine or are available by contacting the Prisma Health call center at 1-833-2PRISMA (1-833-277-4762). Each participating vaccination site manages walk-in access as vaccine supply allow according to what is available that day.