“I’m past my date because of a bad reaction,” I told the pharmacist as he looked down at the month and day on my coronavirus vaccination card, very confused.
Anxiously waiting as he prepared my second shot, I explained what I had experienced with the first dose and asked if he thought I would have the same type of reaction. He said he didn’t think so.
And so, the cotton swab was dabbed against my skin, in went the needle, and a Band-Aid covered up the injection site. Within minutes, I was well on my way after my second shot.
In April, The New York Times reported that millions of Americans were choosing not to get their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, whether due to scheduling issues, thinking one dose provided enough protection, or fear of the side effects. And up until recently, I was part of that statistic.
While I had every intention of receiving my vaccines on schedule, my body’s reaction to the first dose stopped me in my tracks.
When I received my first Pfizer shot, I utilized the most convenient method for me. I went to a drive-through vaccination site, rolled up my sleeve, and then waited 15 minutes in my car for a reaction. After the timer went off, I was free and clear to go, and I felt great.
Throughout the afternoon of the first day, I experienced no side effects. The next morning, I woke up with a sore arm — a possible and pretty normal side effect noted by the CDC. That pain later progressed, intensifying throughout the left side of my body.
I lay in bed as the first shot left me immobile for over a week. Holding my phone above my head, I kept asking friends that had just gotten their first shots if they were experiencing anything similar.
“My arm’s just a bit sore, but nothing else,” was the response that kept coming back with every new message alert. And as I stayed in bed, hoping it would pass, all I could think to myself was, “What in the world happened differently with me?”
“I was crippled with anxiety and fear. My experience after the first dose was pretty terrible, so what in the world would happen to my body once I received that second shot?”
I experienced several days of not being able to move my head back and forth. The left side of my body had bouts of uncontrollable shaking. My daily neighborhood walks were stalled due to the pain that was shooting down my spine. Thankfully, after more than a week of baths, Tylenol, rest and finger-crossing, the issues went away and I was mostly back to my normal self.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and it was time to receive my second dose. My Instagram feed was filled with smiling people with their “I got my COVID-19 vaccine” stickers, and I too wanted to be part of that group. But as I kept hearing that the side effects from the second shot were typically worse than the first, I was crippled with anxiety and fear. My experience after the first dose was pretty terrible, so what in the world would happen to my body once I received that second shot?
As weeks went by, I watched as friends headed out on trips, met up for extraordinary dinners (inside, no less), and even attended crowded concerts. Life was back to normal, or so it seemed. But I was only partially vaccinated, so I was still sticking close to home.
I went out to eat a handful of times, but it was patio dining only. I began to feel guilty, especially as I was hearing over and over that people in other countries weren’t even able to receive their second doses within the recommended time frame due to short supply.
My grandmother in her 80s, who lives in Canada, was part of that group. I was choosing at that point not to get a shot out of fear, while my grandmother in need was counting down the days until her long-awaited second dose.
With the announcement of the delta variant taking hold and cases on the rise, the anxiety of going out in public and the fear of potentially getting sick or getting others sick all started to weigh on me more and more.
I was weighing the pros and cons of which was worse ― the potential of another bout of reactions to the shot, or the long-term effects of not getting vaccinated. Either way, the outcome was unpredictable, but it was time to make a leap. It was time to face my fears for the greater good.
I woke up on a Saturday and decided that would be the day. I felt strong and capable. Hell, I even walked a mile to my local pharmacy after calling all over town to find a location that had the second Pfizer dose available. It was time.
As I walked up to the pharmacy counter, I was long past the three-week mark and I felt somewhat ashamed, but I had read over and over that even if it was delayed, it was not too late to receive the second dose.
“You’re quite late in getting this,” the busy pharmacist remarked. My reply? “Better now than never.”
After my second shot, I waited 15 minutes to monitor for a reaction and then began my walk home. I picked up a sandwich and a carrot cake cupcake to reward myself for doing one of the scariest things I’ve tackled in a long time. And as I munched on that sandwich, I thought about how overcoming my fear did a lot of good. It not only helped to protect myself, but also my family, my friends, and ultimately, my community.
“My second vaccine was nothing like my first, and it was nothing like what I feared I would experience again. And most importantly, those side effects were nothing compared to the potential effects of a case of COVID-19.”
Later that day, the side effects began — first, of course, with the sore arm. Extremely fatigued by the end of the day, I braced for the worst. By morning, I was hit hard with almost every side effect in the book.
A friend who knew all the gritty details of my experience with the first shot asked how I was feeling. I told her I definitely had “the works” — fever, chills, muscle pains, sore arm, incredible fatigue. I took the day to relax, reflect and take all the naps and soothing baths I could ever want.
The next morning, I woke up feeling pretty well back to normal with just a slight pain left in my arm. I took a long walk by the water to celebrate the fact that the pharmacist who administered my second shot was indeed correct. My second vaccine was nothing like my first, and it was nothing like what I feared I would experience again.
And most importantly, those side effects were nothing compared to the potential effects of a case of COVID-19, both short-term and long-term.
Overall, I was thrilled I had gone ahead and received my second shot and was on my way to being fully vaccinated. It was later than I would have liked and later than what the CDC has recommended, but ultimately, it got done. And isn’t that the goal for everyone?
With rising case numbers, more transmissible variants popping up and increased risk, it was time for me to face my fears and to do my part in getting fully vaccinated to help end this thing. And maybe, if others face their fears, we’ll all be on the other end of this pandemic sooner.