“I’m from Baja California, a peninsula in northwestern Mexico. I moved to the U.S. with my mom, aunt and cousins when I was in eighth grade. I have a large family. Most of them still live in Mexicali, the capital of North Baja. Growing up, my family would congregate at my grandmother’s on the weekends, and they still do.

One time early in the pandemic, one of my relatives was sick with COVID-19, and unfortunately didn’t know it before going to my grandmother’s house. Several relatives got sick, including my grandmother. Everyone recovered except for her, who sadly passed away. She was still very healthy, even though she was in her nineties. She was still feisty and always had something to say.

 Two weeks after that, my mother found out that her older sister, my aunt, had COVID. She had diabetes and some chronic heart issues, but thought it was a cold and didn’t go to the hospital right away. When she did go, she was there for about four or five days before passing away. She lives about three hours away in eastern Oregon, and traveling was restricted at the time. I couldn’t go to either funeral. I can’t even remember exactly when this all was, time has been such a blur. COVID is just tough. 

adrian contrerasI have been a pharmacist since 2007 and have been with Walgreens for two years. It was a good fit for me to be the pharmacy manager in Woodburn, Oregon, because it has a big Hispanic community, and I speak Spanish. It’s also a lower income community, and there has been a lot of hesitation to get the vaccine. Sometimes it can feel like information just doesn’t reach people.

We have done our best in terms of getting the word out there. Our store manager, Tim Grassham, is quite proactive. We did a lot of offsite clinics, including at long-term care facilities, and spread the word through the local newspaper and radio. When the mobile vaccine bus made its way to Portland, it stopped at our store and I gave vaccinations. Within the last three months or so, we’ve seen many Latino families coming into our store, and a lot of that is because Walgreens has contacted local leaders to encourage their neighbors to get vaccinated. Here, when the matriarch or patriarch of the family decides to get the vaccine, everyone else does, too. We’ll see families of six or seven people coming in at the same time.

It’s a lack of information and pressure from public anti-vaccine resistance that’s keeping people from getting vaccinated, at least that’s what I’ve observed. It was quite a shock to me to hear from some of the patients about why they were hesitant to get the vaccine. One woman said she was afraid it would make her sterile. I asked her where she had gotten that information, and she said she heard it from a friend. Another woman was so afraid of needles and asked me to squeeze her hand. I promised her it wouldn’t hurt, but she said I didn’t understand how scared she was – she thought she was going to die. So I made arrangements for her husband to be in the room.

When other people come in who are hesitant, I ask them if they’ve known someone who has gotten COVID. I try not to ask if they know someone who’s died from COVID because that can be morbid, but that firsthand experience can be very eye-opening. It’s enough to convince someone to get the vaccine because they don’t want to compromise the health of their family.

I've realized that a lot of the reasons people have for not getting the vaccine are simple – even something like not having a car. Everyone has a unique story. I take every day and every person as they come. Having a good sense of humor really helps, along with having an outlet.
Adrian salsa dancingWhen I was studying pharmacy at Oregon State University, I picked up salsa and bachata dancing as a hobby, but I got serious about it in 2015. I call it a professional hobby now. Sometimes I’ll have a 10-hour shift and then I head right over to practice at the dance academy. My girlfriend is my dance partner. She is an accomplished ballet and contemporary dancer and she retired several years ago, but she still loves it. We perform at showcases and at workshops and we dance socially. Social dancing is when it’s most fun, but we also love showcases because we develop choreography and refine our movements. There are festivals every weekend, all over the world. When we are able to work it out with our schedules, we love to travel and follow our passion.

We have been able to resume classes lately with masks and showing proof of vaccination, but if a case pops up, the classes and studios shut down. So in the dance community, we’re big on getting people vaccinated because that’s how we can get back to doing what we love. And in my pharmacy profession, we’re trying to get people the facts they need to make an informed decision. I’m doing whatever I can to get people back to normal. If sharing my story helps, then I’m happy to do it. Staying positive and moving forward is how I live my life.”