I find it quite strange, as I write this, that during this exact month last year, I was mentally planning for a holiday abroad that was to come during the summer. And here I am, a year on feeling thankful to be healthy and alive, while thoughts of enjoyment seem to have taken a backseat thanks to COVID-19
COVID-19 has largely been the bane of our lives due to many reasons; family and friends have been lost, our freedom has been taken, and our lives have had to adapt to this ‘new normal’. But how long will this go on for? When will we return to our old ways of living? Will things ever return back to normal? These are some of the many questions that most of us are asking, and sadly, we still don’t have an answer. However, what we do have, are ways of reducing the spread of this virus, and vaccines to protect us from COVID-19. Together, these may help us to reach herd immunity and eventually transition back to normality.
I was one of the lucky people to have been offered the vaccine a couple of weeks ago. Up until that point, I had debated getting the vaccine during the first quarter of this year, given the fact that this is a new type of vaccine and that the long-term side effects had still not been studied. I felt a weird sense of urgency the day I received the phone call inviting me to have the vaccine. On one hand, I felt extremely fortunate to have been offered the vaccine, while was also anxious about giving my consent.
However, due to my background in medical science, I knew, in detail, about the research that went into developing these vaccines, about the rigorous testing and safety procedures that were followed and that this was the best solution we had at the moment, and a very good one at that! So a few conversations with my parents later, I booked my appointment for Thursday 14th January 2021, 9 days into the UKs third national lockdown.
The vaccination process
I was excited about receiving the vaccine since the day I booked it. I mean, it was to be a historic moment in my life, after all. The vaccination centre was a GP surgery, about a 5 minute drive from my house. It took me a while to find a free parking space in the tiny car park outside. In fact, I was surprised that they made this a COVID vaccination centre given the tight space. I headed over to the volunteer outside, who asked me whether or not I was suffering from any COVID-19 symptoms. He also checked my temperature and guided me towards the entrance.
I then filled in a form which asked me the following 9 questions:
- Have you had any vaccination in the last 7 days?
- Are you currently unwell with fever?
- Have you ever had any serious allergic reaction to any ingredients of the COVID-19 vaccines, drug or other vaccine?
- Are you, or could you be pregnant?
- Are you, or have you been in a trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine?
- Have you ever had an unexpected anaphylaxis reaction?
- Are you taking anticoagulant medication, or do you have a bleeding disorder?
- Do you currently have any symptoms of COVID-19 infection?
- Do you give consent to receive the vaccine?
Thankfully, I was able to tick ‘no’ for the first 8 questions and of course a ‘yes’ for the 9th one.
One thought that did cross my mind, however, was that they didn’t supply the ingredients list for the vaccines with the form, so although I knew what the ingredients were from reading the scientific papers, many people may not have had any idea about what the ingredients are.
The volunteer then called one of the doctors to sign off my form and I was guided towards another volunteer at a desk. I was then directed into the room on the left, however, there were two rooms, each with a member of staff stood outside the door, and I wasn’t sure which one to go into, so I decided to use the tried and tested method of looking at the members of staff with the hope that the correct person would invite me inside. But I wasn’t. So I carried on walking until I saw another consultation room ahead of me, with vials of vaccines resting on the desk. I heard a voice from behind asking me to go inside the room.
Administration of the vaccine
A young man, probably in his mid to late 20s walked inside in his scrubs and asked me to give him my form. He asked me the same questions as before and also checked if I had a preference for which arm I wanted the vaccination on. I chose my left arm since I am right-handed and I would much rather have a sore non-dominant arm. He asked me if I had any questions, to which I replied ‘no’ since I had read more than enough about the vaccine already. He then informed me that I would receive the Pfizer vaccine, which I was extremely happy about since mRNA vaccines are a huge advancement in the world of genetics, which is my area of speciality.
The vaccination didn’t hurt at all, in fact he was so gentle that I barely felt anything other than the initial sharp scratch. He then wrote ’15.50’ on my form and asked me to wait in the waiting room outside for 15 minutes, until 3.50pm, and then head over to another volunteer at the desk. While I was seated, I saw a placard on the desk which stated that we should return for our second dose of the vaccination on 9th April, which was 12 weeks after the first.
The UK government decided to extend the time for the second dose to 12 weeks (from the recommended 21 days) to ensure that as many people as possible would be able to receive their first dose before the autumn. The 15 minutes were over, and I headed to the final volunteer who gave me my COVID-19 card and asked me to return at the same time on 9th April.
After effects of the vaccination – day 1
I won’t lie, I was quite disappointed not to have received the COVID-19 vaccination leaflet and sticker that everyone was flaunting on Instagram, nevertheless I was extremely happy and above all, grateful to have received the vaccination. I didn’t feel anything that evening, in fact, I was telling my family and friends how I didn’t even have a sore arm. However, it was that night, when I pulled my duvet that I suddenly realised how painful the site of the injection had become. I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to sleep as I had already taken paracetamol to take care of any potential side effects that I would suffer from (or so I thought).
Common side effects from COVID vaccinations include:
- Pain and swelling on the site of the infection
And sadly, I had all 5 from the following day. I woke up feeling really feverish, tired and nauseous, which I didn’t expect at all as I am normally okay with taking vaccines and have a high pain threshold level. I took paracetamol and anti-sickness tablets, and rested it out since I also had a severe headache. The side-effects were pretty much the same on the following day, but I felt about 70% better on Sunday, and was completely back to normal on Tuesday.
Though unlikely, it IS possible to suffer from side effects first dose. It is also true that just because I suffered from side effects, it doesn’t mean that someone else will too. Everyone is different, and that is something that we should all remember. Side effects are normal, and mean that your body is working to build protection, so simple painkillers and rest will help to resolve them. However, you must get in touch with your doctor if the intensity of the side effects increases as that could be a more serious problem.
Final thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccination
You must be wondering if I regretted the vaccination. My answer is no, I didn’t regret it at all. Side effects are normal, and mean that your body is working to build protection, so simple painkillers and rest will help to resolve them. If anything, this experience has prepared me well for my second dose, since that is when people tend to suffer from more intense side effects. In fact, I would much rather feel unwell for a couple of days than suffer from, and potentially lose my life from COVID. However, I would like to stress the fact you must get in touch with your doctor if the intensity of the side effects increases as that could be a more serious problem.
I have taken my first step towards a brighter future, and I am extremely grateful to have gotten this vaccine so early on. I would 100% recommend every suitable person to have it* since this, together with social distancing, maintaining good hygiene and wearing a mask, could get help us beat this virus!
Stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy.
*Please ensure you consult your doctor to judge your suitability if you have any underlying health conditions or if you have any known allergies