GREENVILLE, S.C. - One extraordinary South Carolina woman has managed to live through two pandemics in her lifetime: Meet 111-year-old Maria Aulenbacher.
Aulenbacher is the oldest living resident in Greenville, and recently made local news headlines after she received her first COVID-19 vaccine dose, along with her 77-year-old daughter, Birgit Dickerson, and son-in-law.
The centenarian has not only lived long enough to see the world consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic — she also lived through the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people throughout 1918 and 1919.
"I’m just happy to have this opportunity to help keep healthy and keep everyone around me healthy," Aulenbacher told Prisma Health, which administered her vaccine in late January, according to a news release. "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."
Maria Aulenbacher giving a thumbs up after receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine.
Aulenbacher was the eldest of six children and lived in Germany until about 10 years ago, when she decided to move to Greenville to be with her daughter, the news release stated.
"We feel we are doing our part," her daughter told Prisma Health. "This was a very easy process, and everybody was wonderful. As a family, we all have all thought of our health care 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."
Aulenbacher attributes living such a long life to a few things: staying active and reading every day (she particularly favors historical books and non-fiction), a glass of red wine with lunch, and a beer with dinner.
Now, Aulenbacher’s family said she can add getting the COVID-19 vaccine to her list of how to live longer.
"She just wants to do whatever she can to keep moving forward," Aulenbacher’s granddaughter, Christina Dickerson, told Prisma Health. "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," Dickerson said.
Aulenbacher was praised by medical personnel at Prisma Health for being a pioneer and setting an example for those who are questioning getting the vaccine.
"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," Dr. Saria Saccocio, Prisma Health chief medical officer for ambulatory services and co-chair of the system’s vaccine task force, said in a news release.
"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," Saccocio added. "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."
Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have dropped at U.S. nursing homes and other long-term care facilities over the past few weeks, offering a glimmer of hope that health officials attribute to the start of vaccinations and an easing of the post-holiday surge and better prevention, among other reasons.
Coupled with better figures for the country overall, it's cause for optimism even if it's too early to declare victory.
So far, a total of 36.8 million people have been vaccinated in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID data tracker.
The weekly count of new deaths remains stubbornly high, with a record 7,042 recorded during the seven-day span that ended Jan. 14 and only a slight decline since. By comparison, for the seven days that ended on Thanksgiving, 3,181 deaths were recorded. More encouragingly, the COVID Tracking Project found that only 251 facilities reported new outbreaks recently, compared to 1,410 in early January.
The Associated Press and FOX Business contributed to this report.