My Experience with the COVID Vaccine and What Comes Next

My Experience with the COVID Vaccine and What Comes Next

By Audrey Gabriel, Youth Advisory Council member. 

Audrey is a first-generation student and activist for immigrants and people of color. She champions health care as a human right and works to bridge the health inequity gap towards all youth’s social justice and well-being.

I was on top of the world, cruising through my first year of college, finally taking classes I’m genuinely interested in, surrounded by so many good friends, and learning what it means to be independent. Flash forward about a month or so into my spring semester and the rug was yanked from under me by none other than COVID-19. Goodbye coffee shop study days, goodbye campus pond. Hello hometown and a desk that I have to share with my sibling.

It feels like just yesterday we were stuck at home making whipped coffee and baking sourdough, wondering when life would ever go back to normal. We’ve come a long way since March. I’ve sat through countless Zoom lectures and lost my mind trying to grasp Organic Chemistry without the luxury of being able to knock on a door for office hours and immediately get an answer from my professor. Somehow, the end of my virtual semester was even worse. Sure, it was summer and I had no finals to plague me, but all mental stimulation went out the window. I found myself with absolutely nothing to do. Yet I was lucky enough to find work at my local hospital and then my time was filled there. There was nothing better to do than pick up doubles. But whether it’s my friends from school or my fellow healthcare workers, all of us wondered—when will this vaccine ever come? Will it?

I found myself with absolutely nothing to do. Yet I was lucky enough to find work at my local hospital and then my time was filled there.

It is certainly an interesting time to be a Public Health major. Article after article would pop up on my phone, discussing FDA guidelines for a vaccine I really didn’t have high hopes for. I understood how long this process has taken before. Polio, MMR, Varicella—all of them took years. My guess? I will have finished my undergraduate career before this miracle vaccine has even reached clinical trials.

I ate my words on December 11th when Pfizer’s vaccine for COVID was cleared by the FDA for emergency use. Then came the emails, dozens of them, from the hospital I work with, detailing roll-out plans, vaccine information, and who gets it first. It was all anyone could talk about. Many of my coworkers couldn’t wait to get it, saying that if they were going to be on the frontlines it would be nice to have more than just a face shield and a mask to protect them. On the other hand, there were those who had their doubts about putting a vaccine into their body that seemed rushed. I think I fell somewhere in the middle of those two groups.

I have a good understanding of how vaccinations work with the immune system, meaning I can point out the inaccuracies of “Facebook scientists” and their posts about how it’s the equivalent of “willingly injecting the virus into your body.” But some of the posts look convincing enough if you don’t fact check these claims and, admittedly, some of them kind of unsettled me. Regardless, I am a woman of science. I believe in data and in scientific fact, and these posts didn’t really phase me. I trusted the data and understood that the only reason this vaccine came so quick is because scientists didn’t have to go through the long, arduous process of searching for funding and finding willing candidates for trials. My mind was made, I wanted this vaccine and it’s one of the few ways to protect myself and my community.

Regardless, I am a woman of science. I believe in data and in scientific fact, and these posts didn’t really phase me.

After about a week from when the vaccine was approved, I found myself with an appointment for the first dose of the vaccine that I, and many others, had been waiting for months for. Early in the morning, I went into the employee clinic where they verified my information and sat me down in a small office. They ask for your verbal consent before administering the vaccine and after doing so, the kind nurse prepped my arm and, just like that, I was vaccinated!

It didn’t hurt more than the regular flu shot. They sat me down for 15 minutes after receiving the 1st dose to observe me for any potential allergic reactions and then I was on my way! I didn’t feel much of anything at the time. Of course, with my luck, that was very short lived.

To put it bluntly, I felt like crap. My arm became very sore—which, to be fair, is normal for me. My arm gets sore after every vaccine I’ve ever had but this was a severe soreness at the injection site. My body felt incredibly fatigued, lethargic, and heavy the whole day. I also felt feverish but I checked my temperature and it was completely normal. I got the brunt of these symptoms during my shift in the evening and I just wanted to curl into a ball and sleep. By the end of the day, my head hurt from being so fatigued and working through it.

I was feeling pretty nervous by the time I get home. I thought I might be having some sort of allergic reaction and the even more paranoid part of my brain thought I might have had COVID and symptoms only presented today. Either way, the bright side was that I had a whole group of coworkers to talk to about it. Having them as support was really reassuring throughout that night and I felt a little less worried going to bed.

When I woke up, I expected to feel all the same symptoms that I did when I went to sleep. Surprisingly enough, I felt perfectly fine! Minus a slightly sore arm, gone was the fatigue and chills. I didn’t take any medicine or anything, it seems that sleeping it off did the trick! I was pretty relieved but still had to take my hospital’s follow up survey for the next three days to monitor any adverse responses to the vaccine.

Either way, the bright side was that I had a whole group of coworkers to talk to about it.

I get my second dose three weeks after my initial vaccination. I’m now enrolled in v-safe, a CDC study that observes patient health in the coming years. In two days, even my sore arm was gone and I felt perfectly normal. I’m going back to campus this upcoming spring and, though I was there in the fall, it will be the first time I’m back on campus with my friends since March.

It feels like everything has come full circle. I’m happy to be back and to feel more protected but I know there is still a pandemic going on, even getting worse in some places. Despite having a vaccine, I’m still keeping my mask on. I’m staying in my bubble. I’m socially distancing when I’m anywhere but my own apartment. Until the general public is vaccinated and the CDC says so, I’m going to continue living like there’s a pandemic going on—because there is.

No matter how much I miss normal college life, I know that public health and the safety of others is far more important than getting to hangout in an overpriced, overcrowded coffee shop. Please, get vaccinated when the time comes but remember in the meantime, and until enough people are vaccinated, that wearing a mask, limiting going out, and social distancing are the best things we can do if we ever want life to go back to normal. To do anything but is just selfish.

Please, get vaccinated when the time comes but remember in the meantime, and until enough people are vaccinated, that wearing a mask, limiting going out, and social distancing are the best things we can do if we ever want life to go back to normal.

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