"We really wanted to get the COVID vaccine together. It just seemed like the bookends of our entire life," says Ann Molyneaux
john and ann Molyneaux
John and Ann Molyneaux holding up the newspaper they were featured in after getting their Polio vaccine in 1955
| Credit: Devin McCue

It was April 29, 1955, and Ann and John Molyneaux, then just first and second graders, still remember being called down to the principal's office to get their polio vaccines.

By that time, the disease had infected more than 120,000 Americans and killed over 7,000 nationwide. And out of the 300 young students at Prospect Elementary School in Oberlin, Ohio, they had been chosen at random to have their picture taken by the local newspaper, The Oberlin News-Tribune.

"I still remember the photographer telling me to look worried and John to act macho," Ann, now 72, says with a laugh in this week's issue of PEOPLE.

Adds John, now 73: "We've always thought it was remarkable [that] the two of us got picked out of all the kids in our school. We kind of figured it was destiny."

Sixty-six years later, the Illinois-based pair — who've now been married for nearly 52 years — got a chance to relive that moment of destiny when, on March 9, they both received their second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine together.

"Every day, I look at that picture of the two of us," says Ann, who keeps the special photo on her bedroom dresser. "We really wanted to get the COVID vaccine together. It just seemed like the bookends of our entire life."

john and ann Molyneaux
The 1955 photo of John and Ann getting their Polio vaccines
| Credit: Lorain County Printing and Publishing

It's been quite a happy life for the Molyneauxs, who started dating in high school and went on to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio together.

In 1969, they married and by 1981, the couple had settled in Wilmette, Ill., where they had four kids — and later eight grandkids — all of whom they visited regularly over the years.

Then, last year, COVID changed all that.

At the time, the pair — who are semiretired from their financial-planning firm — were staying at their other home in Port Townsend, Washington, and planned to return to Illinois by Easter.

But those plans, along with their summer trips, were all canceled amid the COVID outbreak, leading John and Ann to "hunker down" at their Olympic Peninsula home for months.

"It all happened so quickly," recalls Ann. "To not see [our kids and grandkids] for 15 months, and only through FaceTime, that was really the hardest."

john and ann Molyneaux
John and Ann Molyneaux in 2021 after getting their COVID vaccines
| Credit: courtesy ann and John Molyneaux

"It was hard for us to, also, listen to what our kids were going through, trying to homeschool their kids and keep their jobs," she continues. "I marvel that they were able to do it so successfully."

Adds John: "Usually, if the kids raise a white flag, meaning 'Come help us,' Ann can't say no. We're there. And we couldn't go."

By fall 2020, John and Ann were finally able to head back to Illinois — but it wasn't until early 2021 that they started to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the distribution of the COVID vaccine.

After many "stressful" weeks of trying to schedule their first vaccines, Ann was finally able to book ones three days apart on Feb. 6 and Feb. 9. One month later, they got their second dose side-by-side.

"When we finally got it, it was such a feeling of relief," says Ann. "There were tears in our eyes."

For more on John and Ann Molyneaux's story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

And although they attempted to recreate their 1955 photo during the second dose, Ann says the facility's strict photography rules prevented them from doing so.

"I took the [1955] photo with me to the vaccine, but they wouldn't let us [take photos]," she explains. "I thought they'd make an exception, but no such luck."

Instead, John and Ann snapped a post-shot selfie in the facility's hallway — an area that was designated for photos and even had an "I got my COVID shot" banner to stand in front of.

"It's something we'll always treasure," says Ann. "To get appointments that close that we could do it together and recreate it in our minds."

"We were ready to celebrate the life out of it," notes John.

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Once the couple was fully vaccinated at the end of March, they wasted no time celebrating and embarked on an eight-day road trip to Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to see their family.

"It was really wonderful," says Ann of the trip. "They all just gave us long hugs, and that felt really good... I think it meant as much to them as to us."

All the more reason, they say, to continue taking the necessary precautions to protect what's most precious to them.

"Families, like us, want to be together," John explains. "But people still need to take precautions."

Adds Ann: "We encourage everyone to get vaccinated. We're not through this yet, and we can't let our guard down."

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