It took a three-hour road trip, an overnight hotel stay and an untold number of sleepless nights, but she did it: On Jan. 5, Terri Lynn received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine in northern Florida.
“I was just floating after I got it,” the 65-year-old Naples resident told HuffPost.
“I feel empowered that I did something,” she continued. “I didn’t realize it until afterwards, but I’m just so proud.”
Like many of her friends and family, Lynn was eager for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, and to be eligible for the shot in her arm. After about nine months and more than 300,000 deaths in the U.S., the first batches were finally released in January — light at the end of a monthslong tunnel. All of the country’s 50 states have designed their own distribution plans, some of which have gone more smoothly than others.
For Lynn, information about the vaccine had been “spotty,” but after setting up multiple Google alerts and all but living online, she learned that Publix grocery stores were going to be offering the vaccine in three Florida counties — all of which were more than a three-hour drive from her Naples home.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes, I was trembling,” she said of the moment, sometime around 4 a.m., she saw she could sign up for a vaccine dose. After successfully booking her own appointment online, she rushed to book another for her husband, Mark.
“I didn’t realize how frantic I was going to be about it. It was like winning the lottery — even better,” she said.
What the COVID-19 vaccine physically feels like
So far, most people who’ve received the vaccine report mild to moderate side effects. Injection-site pain, headaches and fever are some of the most common symptoms, which experts say are typical for any type of routine inoculation.
In general, side effects like these are an expected immune response of the body. Candidates for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials experienced stronger side effects after their second dose compared to their first.
“In some of the studies from Moderna, about one-third of people had a fever after the second dose, and they didn’t after the first,” Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatric infectious disease epidemiologist at Stanford University, previously told HuffPost. We know less about the potential long-term side effects of the vaccine ― there don’t seem to be any, but we’ll learn more in the months to come.
“I was just floating after I got it.”
Lynn said she was happy to feel the “little bit of tenderness” in her arm because it meant the vaccine was in her body.
For Andrew Geller, a 37-year-old dentist in Bronxville, New York, his first vaccine dose came with more than a little tenderness. “I had a pretty intense reaction about 20 hours after I received the vaccine,” he told HuffPost.
Geller said he experienced flu-like symptoms, but the incident isn’t derailing his will to get a second dose. He thinks it’s important to share stories like his, even though the majority of people who get the vaccine will show little to no side effects.
“You have to be honest with patients,” he said, explaining that doing so helps mitigate fear. “If they are aware and then they have the symptoms, it gets rid of the panic. I had 24 hours of flu-like symptoms and then it went away and that’s OK. It’s a possibility and you don’t panic.”
Ruth Schwartz, a 99-year-old resident at Atria Senior Living home in New York City, said she feels “very, very privileged,” to have received the vaccine, and shared that the actual inoculation was painless.
“Everything went well and I felt fine after, and still do,” she said. “Now that I have the vaccine I feel much better about [my situation]. I feel that I’m not existing but, hopefully, will be able to live.”
Other feelings to expect after getting the immunizations
Of course, the feelings attached to getting the vaccine are not just physical; many people report experiences of emotional release and relief.
Melinda Olsen, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Jose, California, said when she tells patients she’s vaccinated, they respond with a mix of joy and playful jealousy.
“After I got the shot I started to tear up; it felt like there was finally some hope after a long 10 months of personal difficulty and collective trauma due to the pandemic,” the 37-year-old told HuffPost.
Olsen said she and other therapists have experienced a new type of challenge in their professional lives during the pandemic. “When I’m holding other people’s traumas, it’s usually removed. But I think it’s a whole other thing to hold somebody’s trauma in real time while you yourself are experiencing that same kind of trauma,” she said.
As a working mom with a 3-year-old at home, Olsen has had to shake up her lifestyle to make things work — a disruption that mirrors the lives of many of her patients. Sharing this trauma is “surreal and very different, but I guess it’s also connecting,” she said.
“After I got the shot I started to tear up; it felt like there was finally some hope after a long 10 months of personal difficulty and collective trauma due to the pandemic.”
Lynn Zakeri, a licensed clinical social worker in Skokie, Illinois, has also been meeting with clients throughout the pandemic. “It’s very relieving — I like that everyone I know is going to feel the way I do,” she said.
She added she “was so emotional in taking the shot, I felt giddy and I feel so lucky and privileged to get it.”
Jean Gilsinian, a 91-year-old resident of the Christian Health Care Center in New Jersey, is keen on getting back to the things she loves to do.
“I want to be able to go and enjoy my games again, sing again, dance again, do it all again. I want to be able to do again,” she said.
Gilsinian said she’s most looking forward to “freedom,” and it’s so close she can almost taste it. Receiving the vaccine didn’t just supply her with a powerful COVID-fighting agent, but a dose of faith, too. “I have hope,” Gilsinian said. “I know I did the right thing.”
Similarly, 61-year-old Debbie Brilliant, a program instructor at an Atria Senior Living home, said she feels “amazing and hopeful” after her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. As a caretaker who has visited Atria’s residents throughout the pandemic, Brilliant was able to participate in her company’s vaccine dispersal, which was “like a celebration.” Brilliant and the seniors for whom she works were greeted with balloons, lively music and snacks that she said felt right for the occasion.
“This is really a historical moment — whoever thought that anything like this would happen and that we were at the top of the list to be able to get this vaccine and get on with life as we knew it?” she wondered in disbelief. “Even with all the bad, I just feel that life is going to be so much sweeter when this is all behind us. I think we’re going to have so much more appreciation for life and for each other.”
Schwartz said she’s been having a difficult time since the pandemic’s onset; the activities she’s so enjoyed in her residence at Atria, like going to operas, lectures and museums, have been on a long pause, and she hasn’t been able to spend time with her family.
For the almost-centenarian, “living,” means celebrating. “I don’t know how many years I have left, but I hope I feel the same way I feel now. I hope to have some sort of a birthday in June when I’ll be 100,” she said, adding that along with her daughter in Connecticut, she’d like for her son across the country in California to visit. “Hopefully he’ll come in and we’ll have a party.”