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105-year-old woman who survived 1918 influenza pandemic receives COVID-19 vaccine

Thelma Brewster, 105, received her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at Glenmeadow, an independent and assisted living community in Longmeadow, on Jan. 23.Glenmeadow

Thelma Brewster was 3 years old when a deadly flu virus swept over the country in 1918, and now, more than a century later, she finds herself in the midst of another pandemic. But this time there’s a vaccine available.

Brewster, 105, received her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday at Glenmeadow, the independent and assisted living community in Longmeadow, Mass., where she lives. She was among 236 residents and staff members who received the Pfizer vaccine and is due to receive her next shot on Feb. 13, according to Linda Edwards, a spokeswoman for Glenmeadow.

Brewster is the oldest of the 150 residents who live at Glenmeadow. She was one of five centenarian residents who were vaccinated on Saturday.


Brewster grew up in Medford and was three years old when the influenza pandemic of 1918 hit. By the time it was over, the so-called “Spanish flu” killed approximately 50 million people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brewster didn’t catch the deadly flu, nor did anyone in her family, according to her nephew, Doug Cahill. Life went on, and Brewster eventually got married and moved to New York City, and she worked for many years for Johnson Matthey, a company with offices located in the diamond district in Manhattan, Cahill said.

Following the death of her husband, Brewster returned to her home state of Massachusetts. She’s been a resident of Glenmeadow since 2001.

“She lives on the independent side — she has her own little apartment,” Cahill said in a telephone interview. “She gets around with a walker.”

Brewster had no trouble getting her first dose of the vaccine, he said.

“She said her arm didn’t hurt; it was no problem at all,” he said.

Officials at Glenmeadow describe Brewster as “an extremely active” member of the community who over the years has served as a volunteer, reading aloud to other residents and helping them participate in various activities. She still enjoys getting her hair done once a week.


Brewster said his aunt — like the rest of us — is looking forward to when the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.

“She certainly can’t wait for that to happen. She misses the visits,” he said. “The whole isolation thing has really affected her, it’s been difficult.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.