Saturday, May 08, 2021

Vaccine: A first-hand experience

| March 11, 2021 1:00 AM

Throughout this whole, frustrating past year, our family has been as worried about others as we have about ourselves. So either way, we’d probably have gotten COVID-19 vaccines.

But after a surprise diagnosis of late-stage cancer last spring, what might have been optional became mandatory. The treatments which luckily killed my husband’s cancer also weakened his body and immune system, making him more vulnerable to the potential nastiness of this virus.

So thanks to Northwest Specialty Hospital’s vaccine clinic, all three in our household recently completed the Moderna vaccine series. If you’re wondering what to expect, here’s a play by play.

First, a caveat: Our experience may not be yours. Reactions are individual and cover a range of symptoms and duration. From what I can tell, ours were about average. Since our group includes age 65 and immunocompromised, 53 in average health, and 25 in excellent health, maybe it’s illustrative of what most might expect.

So here goes.

Vaccine 1: We had afternoon appointments, but it was early days and crowded so the whole thing took nearly half an hour. NWSH relies on Rotary Club volunteers for this massive rollout, so it was a bit like going to Friday noon Rotary; lots of masked, friendly faces helping out.

After a quick fever check at the entrance we stood in a short line to sign in. Waited about 20 minutes to get called for full registration with questions about basic health, etc. A few minutes later a very competent R.N. gave us shoulder injections in a private room which felt like any other. A brief wait to make sure no one had a weird reaction, and we were off in search of dinner.

Evening 1: Nothing. Normal.

Overnight/morning: OK, that shoulder is getting a little sore, but not distracting.

Day 2, 3: Shoulder still sore, resisting rubbing the vaccine spot but otherwise fine. One of us felt a bit tired and got a mild headache Day 2, but that’s it. We volunteered for a daily symptom check for data collection via text; those came around 2:30 each day and took about 15 seconds.

Fast forward 4 weeks. We’d heard vaccine 2 packs more of a wallop for most, which turned out to be true.

Vaccine 2: Easier and faster process, as NWSH’s clinic moved to a bigger space at the outlet mall and already had all our data. On time for our 2:30 appointment, after a quick hi to more Rotary volunteers we got to the nurse in a curtained enclosure immediately. Quick jab on the other arm and then a few minutes in a sitting area for any unexpected reaction (none). Back to work.

Evening 1: Nothing. Fine.

Overnight: Sore upper arm again, but fine.

Day 2: Still OK until about 22 hours post-vaccine, then sudden “waves of weird.” For the next 24 hours, two of us (not the 65-year-old!) experienced mild nausea, moderate headache, body aches, and enough fatigue to make work tough. One had a slight fever, which Tylenol fixed. Hubby felt the body aches and headache, but his was less of a wallop. Go figure.

All those symptoms were within expected parameters … But crikey.

Day 3: Much better. Still just a little tired and arm-sore, but minor.

Dinnertime, Day 3: Back to normal.

Then it’s a two-week wait for total effectiveness to kick in, while the body builds up that immunity. That’s it folks. A small price to pay (all COVID vaccines are free, paid for by the Fed) for more safety.

A few facts to know: As Tuesday’s column iterated, these vaccines don’t contain a dead (or live) virus, and don’t change your DNA.

There are several strains of COVID-19. These vaccines seem to work against most, but may not against all strains. While it’s still possible to get the virus after being vaccinated, it’s statistically less likely and evidence so far indicates the vaccine means it’ll be a milder case rather than one of those sad stories about life-threatening symptoms or long-term heart and lung damage.

What they aren’t sure of yet is how much the vaccine helps other people to whom the vaccinated get close. Can I still carry the virus, or would my body kill it off quickly enough that the risk of infecting others might be negligible? No one really knows, so mask and distance precautions are still warranted.

Until or unless enough of us get the vaccine or develop the antibodies by having the virus and herd immunity is achieved, please be kind.

You never know which stranger you encounter may be someone’s more vulnerable, as-yet-unvaccinated whole world.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email