When the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine arrived, Bleeker Cannon was ready.
“It was like Santa Claus – we were waiting for that day to come,” she says.
Bleeker, 81, and her husband, Robert “Bubba” Cannon Jr., 89, live in Pawleys Island. They’re both at high risk for serious complications from COVID-19: She has diabetes and a history of strokes; he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
So, when Tidelands Health began accepting requests for COVID-19 vaccination from individuals 70 and older on Jan. 13, Bleeker quickly registered them both. The process from registration to vaccination went smoothly.
“We have never seen an operation better planned or organized,” says Bleeker, who retired in 1997 as vice principal at Myrtle Beach High School.
Among the first
Three weeks ago, the Cannons were among the first people ages 70-plus to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Tidelands Health regional vaccination site in Murrells Inlet. They came back for their second dose this week.
To date, the health system has administered more than 16,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including nearly 10,000 doses to people 70 and older. Another 19,000 Phase 1a-eligible individuals remain on the health system’s wait list.
Due to extremely limited vaccine supply, the health system has temporarily halted accepting new vaccination requests, though Phase 1a-eligible individuals can sign up to be notified when the process resumes, likely in late April or early May.
As for the vaccination, “It doesn’t hurt,” says Bubba, a retired postal worker.
A bright future
For the Cannons, vaccination was a shot in the arm both literally and figuratively. The vaccine has relieved some of their worries about COVID-19 and helped them feel optimistic about the future – especially for their upcoming 60th wedding anniversary.
“You are like angels to us,” Bleeker wrote in a special section of the Tidelands Health website that allows people to share their COVID-19 vaccination stories. “Now we can really look forward to our 60th wedding anniversary in August.”
The Cannons will celebrate their 60th anniversary on Aug. 27, a few days after Bubba turns 90. They were married at First United Methodist Church of Myrtle Beach, where Bubba’s father, Robert Howard Cannon Sr., laid the cornerstone. At the time, they had $200 for a wedding.
Bleeker’s family moved from Charlotte to North Myrtle Beach in 1952. She and Bubba met at Coker College in Hartsville and were married soon after.
“We’ve had the same values since the day we married,” Bleeker says. “We’ve just had a good time doing things that we mutually enjoy.”
Over all those years, they’ve shared a love and admiration for each other – and for football. Bubba, who played center for Myrtle Beach High School in his youth, served as a high school football referee when he got older. Bleeker attended games regularly in her role as a high school administrator
“She’s just a good woman,” says Bubba.
“He’s about the finest guy I’ve ever known,” says Bleeker. “He’s a good Christian man. I would love to be as kind as he is. He’s a behind-the-scenes servant of the Lord.”
Unlike their children and grandchildren, the Cannons know what it’s like living through a disease epidemic. When they were young, polio was a constant threat.
Bubba remembers the man who came to his house to sell his father polio insurance for his children.
Bleeker remembers her neighbor two doors down in Charlotte, a doctor whose son got polio.
“I remember seeing them take the iron lung into their home,” Bleeker says. “You can rest assured that I have, throughout this whole thing, thought about that very bad summer of polio.”
Optimistic, but careful
It took scientists decades to develop a vaccine for polio. By contrast, the COVID-19 vaccine came about much more rapidly thanks to a combination of modern technology, tremendous scientific collaboration, unprecedented public and private financial support and previous research completed on coronavirus vaccines.
Still, even though the vaccine is remarkably effective, that doesn’t mean people can become complacent about COVID-19.
Though they’ve been vaccinated, the Cannons still plan to take precautions against the disease as they look toward celebrating their sixth decade together in a few months. They continue to stay home and wear masks when around their family members.
“We’ve been very cautious about it,” Bleeker say of the coronavirus.