The COVID-19 vaccine has proven to be extremely controversial. There is no middleman when discussing it. People are either for or against it. There is a negative connotation associated with vaccines in general. However, when a new one hits the market, the nation seems to collectively go haywire. I’m not someone that is wary of vaccines or modern medicine. When I first learned of the COVID-19 vaccine, I knew that I would be getting it. First, because I wanted to be able to visit my family without fear of getting, or passing, the deadly virus. Second, I love to travel and would be eager to get back to that ASAP. Finally, because I have anxiety from leaving my home and catching COVID-19 I’ve largely been staying home. I have now gotten both shots and am completely vaccinated. Here is my experience for anyone who may be on the fence.
What Is The Vaccine?
There are two main types of COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA and Vector Vaccines. The most common, Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA. mRNA vaccines contain material from the virus that causes COVID-19 and gives our cells instructions for how to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. These don’t contain a live virus. Johnson & Johnson is a viral vector vaccine. Vector Vaccines contain a modified version of a different virus than the one that causes COVID-19. Inside the shell of the modified virus, there is material from the virus that causes COVID-19. This is called a “viral vector.” Once the viral vector is inside our cells, the genetic material gives cells instructions to make a protein that is unique to the virus that causes COVID-19. There is a third option still undergoing trials.
THE VACCINE CANNOT PREVENT COVID-19! Just like the flu shot, the COVID-19 vaccine’s goal is to make the need for hospitalization, and even death, less likely. In fact, I’ve been staying away from the flu shot because in the past I got the flu every year I got the flu shot. In 2020 however, I got the flu shot and no flu! Also, a lot of people are worried the vaccine is actually a chip being placed under the skin. We give up so much of our privacy as it is, just by having a smartphone and social media. Why would the government hassle us about what they are already getting willingly and for free from Zuckerberg? These shots will likely require boosters in the future as new strains of COVID arise. Finally, don’t allow memes and conspiracy theories to determine your medical decisions. Especially something as significant as this.
Signing up for the shot was a very easy process. I was emailed by my health insurance provider that the COVID vaccine was available for people in my age bracket. Ohio seemed to be a bit strange as the pharmacies in the area weren’t offering the vaccine like other states were. I logged into the healthcare website and attempted to schedule an appointment for the clinic nearest to me. The only issue is that there weren’t any appointments for the locations nearest to me. As a result, I had to book mine at the clinic about 20 minutes away. Not a terrible commute, but why even offer the other locations if nothing is available? I scheduled my appointment for the early morning to avoid any potential backups. I also had to confirm that I was still coming 24 hours before my appointment. Overall, it was very easy to do.
The building where I got my shot appeared to be a defunct auditorium. The line was fairly short. About 8 people ahead of me. There were two ladies working the front desk to check patients in two at a time. Behind them were a bunch of chairs. I’m guessing that was a waiting area just in case the nurses got backed up throughout the day. Luckily for me, everything was running smoothly. The attendants ask for your name and date of birth. They quickly explained which vaccine I was about to receive. I received Pfizer but my husband got Moderna, despite us having the exact same insurance. My second vaccine was automatically scheduled based on the date and time of the first. After check-in, I was led to the back of the auditorium space. A makeshift clinic with white sheets separating each station. There were about 10 stations in total.
I was then asked a series of questions. Have I been exposed to covid, have I ever tested positive for covid, etc. Then, it was time to get my shot! The shot took about two seconds. There was a prick of the needle and that was the only initial discomfort I felt. With some shots, you can feel the heat of the fluid entering your body. I didn’t feel that with this one. The needle was pretty small as well. Afterward, they advise you to sit in the waiting area for about 15 minutes. This is just in case you have adverse side effects immediately. I was a little nervous when they told me that. My mind went to the video of the nurse fainting. However, I was already there and wasn’t going to turn back around. My fifteen minutes passed, no immediate reactions. I drove home with no issues.
Two hours is when I first noticed mild side effects. I was hot which is rare for me as I am what people call a “freeze baby”. I had a little bit of nausea after I ate breakfast which caused me not to have an appetite for the rest of the day. Also, I was extremely fatigued after the first shot. So much so that I ended up leaving work early and going to bed. The next morning, I was still hot so I checked my temperature. Clocking in at 99.5, not quite a fever but elevated from the usual 97-98 range I fluctuate between. My appetite was back to normal and the extreme fatigue dissipated. My arm was only sore at the injection site. A headache lingered for a few days. However, I can’t completely chalk this up to the vaccine. I had my period at the time.
Going in for shot two was a similar process. I checked in the exact same way as the first visit. In an interesting twist of fate, I ended up in the exact cubicle! Got my shot, sat for 15 minutes again, and drove home with no trouble. I was initially under the impression that shots one and two were different. Perhaps a stronger dose or different formulation. However, I realized that there were people there getting shot 1 while I was in line for shot 2. That’s when I made the inference that both shots are actually the same. According to GoodRX when a vaccine requires two shots, the first shot helps your body recognize the virus and gets your immune system ready. While the second shot strengthens that immune response. This makes your body more prepared to fight infection. This is why the second has stronger effects
Again, around the two-hour mark is when I noticed side effects again. This time I was very hot but I also had chills. No appetite again but this time it lasted for almost two days. I also had a distinct headache. My upper arm, from elbow to shoulder was sore. I also had aches throughout my entire body. My internal temperature was having trouble regulating itself. Which means I was either extremely hot or extremely cold. To my surprise, I never had a fever. Also, just like with the 1st shot, I was very tired. I slept in the day after the shot. I even went right to bed after work. There was a slight bit of brain fog, but I think that was due to the lethargy I was experiencing. These symptoms stayed for about three days after the shot. Ibuprofen and Gatorade were a lifesaver for me.
I learned that women are experiencing stronger side effects. According to USA Today, women exhibit a greater immune response to vaccines than men in general. This may explain why more women have reported side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. “From a biological perspective, women and girls produce sometimes twice as many infection-fighting antibodies from vaccines,” said Rosemary Morgan, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Women have also been more diligent about reporting their symptoms, which would be swaying the research. In contrast to my experience, my husband was pretty much side-effect-free. Except for a shocking bout of nausea after the second shot. Which is very unusual for him as he prides himself on never getting sick. Overall, multiple sources, including the CDC have all assured readers that the presence of side effects means the vaccine is doing its job.
Overall, I don’t regret getting the vaccine. The second shot had more intense side effects than the first but for me it was bearable. It felt like catching a cold. I had anxiety from the tweets about how “brutal” the second shot was. In hindsight, it wasn’t worth the time spent worrying. If you are planning to get the vaccine, here are some tips to make it bearable.
The most important thing is to stay hydrated. Gatorade, water, and Pedialyte are perfect as they will replenish your body’s electrolytes. Do not take painkillers until you begin to feel side effects. Surprisingly, taking pain relievers as a precaution actually weakens the efficacy of the vaccine. Get plenty of rest and listen to your body. Take time off, if necessary. Finally, it takes two weeks after the second shot to be fully vaccinated so continue to social distance and wear your masks!