I Received the COVID-19 Vaccine; Here's What To Expect
Two people share the preparation, procedure and aftermath of receiving the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations in December.
We know that a lot of folks have questions about what getting the vaccine might be like, so we are proud to publish these two takes on the experience. We would also like to add: Please get vaccinated when and if you have the opportunity to safely do so. That's just one editor's opinion.
Part I: The Background
PortionoftheCure: As the world began grinding to a halt at the beginning of the year, solutions seemed ineffective and distant. I consider myself more fortunate than most as COVID-19 is the first real life-altering event that has affected me as a young adult. Watching the future unfold, I wanted to be a part of it—not to bore my grandchildren with stories, but to know I made the conscious decision to help it. My impact is yet to be determined, but I sleep more easily knowing I am one of many who placed their health in the hands of the hardworking men and women in the scientific and health community.
Which is to say, on a whim, I signed up for a COVID-19 vaccination through a series of applications I found on Reddit. I didn't actually expect to be contacted—I’m a white male in his late 20s with no special heritage, conditions or dependents. But to my surprise, I was quickly contacted and asked to sign up for the AZZ1222 trial through MedPharmics. It was a two-year study with the first visit lasting three hours. The company had an office and lab in the hospital complex ten miles away and actually had an opening that same day. I requested the next day to consider my answer, particularly due to the suddenness and anxiety of straying more than two miles from home for the first time in ten months.
Denny1980: This was supposed to be the first year of the rest of my life.
The beginning of 2020 marked the ending of a four-year-long career change from investment banking into medicine. I graduated from a Physician Associate (PA) program in December 2019 and accepted a position in orthopedic surgery in New York City shortly before Christmas. I moved to New York in mid-February and was excited about my future, more than I ever had been in the past. I was a new grad beginning a new career that I loved and I was moving to a city where I always wanted to live. Then COVID-19 hit full-force.
I guess 2020 wasn’t my year, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve never been known to have good timing.
Within a month of moving, the pandemic caused NYC hospitals to become overrun with critically ill patients, triggering a citywide—then countrywide—shutdown. My orthopedic surgery training came to a grinding halt by mid-March (two weeks after I started) when all elective surgeries were canceled. Shortly afterward—almost overnight—my orthopedic surgery specialty hospital turned into a COVID-19 overflow hospital, and it remained so for most of the summer. It was remarkable to see this transformation occur. I, along with everyone else at my hospital, was proud to fulfill my duty as a clinician to help ease the burden on other NYC hospitals and take care of people who needed it the most.
Right from the start of this pandemic, a common topic of conversation with colleagues was the development of a vaccine. “This vaccine can’t come soon enough,” I kept hearing. “Things will get better once they develop a vaccine.” Now, writing this article in mid-December, the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered two days prior. It was such a relief to hear this news and also incredibly exciting. This might be the first time that members of the scientific community were heralded as heroes for coming to everyone’s rescue with an injection that will hopefully save thousands, if not millions, of lives. They deserve our praise and gratitude.
Part II: The Process
PortionoftheCure: The morning after agreeing to the trial, I strolled into the office. As a southern Mississippian, I can vouch we have the nicest, sweetest receptionists and nurses. The lady I previously spoke with signed me in. I was given the standard information sheet to fill out (they asked for an out-of-state emergency contact, in case of evacuation). I was then given a 26-page read for my consent that covered research on the vaccine—how a double-blind study works, what symptoms to expect, the risks involved and the schedule for the trial for the next two years. Like most medical trials, financial compensation was offered, though I would have agreed to testing the vaccine without it.
I had a 66 percent chance of receiving the vaccine, but neither I nor my nurse would know unless I developed severe symptoms and was tested. I would get the injection that day and return for my booster shot a month later, along with sporadic visits after that. A lighter set of reading material explained how my private information would be coded to protect my identity, and it gave me the option to let my DNA be stored for future research. Once I read over everything, I was called back to see a nurse, who went over the same material. The thorough process took over an hour. After nodding “yes” to lawyer-speak, nurses took my weight, tested my oxygen and blood pressure, and then poked for a few vials of blood. That was 90 percent of the visit.
Denny1980: My hospital notified us that the vaccine would be administered to employees starting on December 14. Administrators explained that it would be given out on a rolling basis, and we should look out for emails about scheduling an appointment to receive it. Shortly after, I was ecstatic to find out I was selected to be in the first wave of vaccinations. I signed up immediately to receive mine at 2:45 p.m. on December 15. It was a surreal experience and the anticipation of receiving it was a total through-the-roof experience.
When I arrived in the room at my appointment time, I was greeted by a nurse sitting at a table. She had me fill out a questionnaire about my health history and my reactions to medicines and vaccines. Once I was officially cleared, I was brought to a cubicle and asked to sit and wait for a few minutes. Apparently, each vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine contains enough vaccine for about five people. Once they have five people ready for the injection, the frozen vial is thawed, and then the nursing staff must administer it within a few minutes before it becomes ineffective.
Part III: The Injection
PortionoftheCure: The moment arrived. Another nurse came in and gave me a shot (it had a 33 percent chance of being a placebo) and that was it! I sat out in the lobby with an observer for 15 minutes, who made sure I didn't have an extreme reaction, and was told to contact them only if I had severe symptoms. Otherwise, they would call me and check-in a week later.
Denny1980: Quick administration is critical, but the vaccine was given out the same way any shot is. I was asked which arm I wanted to use, then the nurse took an alcohol swab and cleaned my arm. Then I saw it—a syringe with a clear liquid inside, a syringe I’ve been waiting to see since mid-March. I was almost star-struck. The nurse injected me, and it was done—the first of two vaccine doses was inside my body and I felt like a rock star. I was asked to wait for about 20 minutes to make sure I didn’t have any anaphylactic reactions. Then, I was on my way.
Part IV: The Aftermath
PortionoftheCure: I left the office around noon. I went home, exercised, ate lunch and took a nap. When I awoke at 4 p.m., I knew something was off. I had fallen asleep without an air conditioner in the middle of a Mississippi afternoon and I was freezing. I checked my temperature, which read 101.5. Well, probably not the placebo then, eh?
As someone who has worked in the hospitality business, I learned long ago how to dodge most of the infected people spewing colds everywhere. This was the first time I’d felt sick outside of congestion in years. Instantly, I regretted signing up for the trial.
The regret passed pretty quickly. I was home, safe, with clean water and the internet. I could ride this out, as others had done before me. I shivered in my miserable comfort, drinking water and trying to nap until my fever broke about 12 hours later. Throughout this fever, the injection site on my arm became very sore, and the ache spread to the rest of my body, which included a headache that became splitting when I moved my eyes. I laid in bed for about three days, getting up to eat some fruit and use the restroom. My immune system kicked my butt. But by the fourth day, I felt completely normal, aside from a slight ache persisting around the injection site. A few days later, MedPharmics gave me a call and a representative expressed her sympathy for my discomfort. She told me if I had any questions or concerns, they were available 24/7.
Denny1980: About five hours after receiving the injection, I took a photo of the CDC card showing proof of my vaccination and posted it on both Instagram and Facebook with the caption, “First of two COVID vaccines received and I feel fine!” More than 24 hours after receiving it, I am happy to report I still feel fine. I do have some very minor soreness at the injection site, but I only feel discomfort if I press in that area. There is no redness, no swelling. I never felt dizzy or ill in any way. I know I am one data point out of many thousands, but my condition, more than 24 hours after administration, is in-line with how the vast majority of people have felt in Pfizer’s clinical trials.
Part V: The Future
PortionoftheCure: Two weeks from now, I will go in to get my booster shot, which will be a much quicker ordeal than the first visit since all my forms are signed and lab work is done. I’m glad I received it. As the multiple vaccines roll out into the public, it will be interesting to see which is the safest and most efficacious. Here's to fighting the good fight, and doing what you can to contribute to humanity’s battle against things that threaten our lives and the fabric of society.
Denny1980: I will receive a booster shot three weeks from my injection. My hospital is not going to make this vaccine mandatory. Nor should they. I respect people’s decisions to put off receiving the vaccine until more data is collected. I even respect people’s decision to never to receive it. The method of making this vaccine is revolutionary. Thankfully, most people will choose to take it, which will help put this pandemic behind us.
If you decide to pass on the vaccine, please don’t let it be because you’re afraid of the side effects. It is safe. Very safe.
The mainstream news media—CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post—will undoubtedly report quite a bit about bad reactions to the vaccine. Sensationalism sells and the vaccine is the number one trending topic right now. Just this morning I saw a major news organization report that people should be on the lookout for Bell’s Palsy as a possible side effect. This is not newsworthy, in my opinion. It’s clickbait and absurd sensationalism. According to Pfizer’s clinical trial, only four out of 44,000 people reported facial paralysis, a number so insignificant it’s not even worth mentioning.
Always remember: Sensationalism and fear get people to read and watch the news. I promise there will be lots more of this in the near future.
For what it’s worth, more than 24 hours after receiving this vaccine, I still feel fine, and so do the vast majority of people who have already received it.