TAVARES, Fla. - Tavares Police Corporal Christina Collins didn’t think twice about signing up to help work off-duty at a COVID-19 vaccine site at a local church in Lake County.
"Our job specifically was to direct traffic," Cpl. Collins said.
After a few hours on the job, she and her partner, Officer Octavious Taylor, quickly learned there was more to it than that.
"There was an elderly gentleman, roughly 90 years old," Officer Taylor said, "and a woman -- I would assume it was his wife -- she comes up to me, she’s sobbing in the car. ‘He’s got Stage IV cancer," Cpl. Collins recounts.
The Tavares officers had to tell the couple no, the facility had already hit capacity and every shot was spoken for.
"She’s like begging and pleading with me to try to get her in. And for me, that broke my heart and I can see the frustration in her face. Then I’m frustrated because I want to help. I want to give here that vaccine," Cpl. Collins said.
"At that point when that happened, I really wanted to go home," Officer Taylor added.
Later that week when their lieutenant asked how the vaccine assignment was going, Cpl. Collins choked up, catching her boss off guard.
"I’m not a very emotional person, I am a combat veteran and it comes from that being deployed three times. Having to break down emotionally to my lieutenant and be like ‘Hey, this is hard.’ Emotionally, it’s kind of taken a toll on me," Cpl. Collins added.
Her weapon, her bullet-proof vest, decades of training could not prepare her for this assignment.
"It’s like telling your grandparents, my grandparents, hey no grandma, no papa, you can’t get that vaccine today. It’s hard and it’s not even that. Our elderly community, they’re our family, Lake County residents, they’re our family and I had to tell them 'no' and that was hard for me to do," she explained.
Officer Taylor’s mom is a cancer survivor. It hit a personal note with him too.
"She had lung cancer you know I look at it as my mom going out there and us telling my mom no," he said.
The people who were able to get vaccines and said thank you as they left the vaccine site, honked and waved with the look of relief on their faces -- that’s what’s helping them get through this assignment. And for everyone they’ve had to say "I’m sorry" to for turning away, they have a message. They want them to know how sincere that apology is.
"It comes from the heart. Yes we have a job to do, but it comes from the heart," Officer Taylor said.
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