Today is the day. You’re getting vaccinated. Scientists, drug companies, government workers, volunteer subjects, distribution companies and health systems have all worked intensely for 11 months with one goal in mind: to get a life-saving vaccine to you as soon as possible. As described in my last post, distribution HAS been challenging. My mother, over 90 years old and living in California, is still waiting.
What to expect the day you get your vaccine:
How long will it take?
In the best scenario, you will be finished in one hour. It all depends on how long you have to wait in line and how quickly the paperwork is handled. In some locations people have waited for hours, especially if an appointment hasn’t been made. Drive through is being offered at some sites but this can, and has, resulted in snarled traffic with cars lined up for more than a mile.
The injection itself is fast. Count to ten and the injection is finished, just a quick poke. However, you cannot leave right away. An observation period of at least 15 minutes is recommended to make sure you are ok.
Are there immediate side effects?
The vaccination is a tiny amount of fluid, no more than a tenth of a teaspoon. The needle and syringe are both small and the injection itself feels like a flu shot with only a slight pain. Few problems have been reported. The most common side effects are due to anxiety about getting the injection.
The mood at vaccination sites is frequently happy since people are so grateful to get the vaccine. I’ve seen people in their 90’s who stayed in virtual isolation for almost a year because of concern about getting sick and dying from the virus. Their happiness at getting the vaccination is not only relief but also joy at seeing people again.
How will you feel several days after the vaccine?
The most common side effect in the days after the vaccination is a sore arm. I had this reaction myself. A pain reliever such as Tylenol or Motrin can help. Some people end up feeling slightly ill with flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches, headache, a low fever or nausea. This can last up to several days. Feeling a bit sick is more common after the second dose. For more serious problems, contact your doctor.
Three or four weeks later: Do not forget your second dose.
The vaccines that are currently available in the United States require two doses. The second “booster” shot is either 3 or 4 weeks after the first. The first dose takes a while to take effect and results in only partial immunity. For instance, some congressmen contracted COVID after they had their first vaccination. That was because the first dose had not yet resulted in a strong ability to fight off the virus.
Right around day 40 after the first vaccination, your body will have strong defense against the virus. People can still give you the virus but your body will be able to fight it off and you are much less likely to get sick.
After Day 40, now what?
Do you still need to be careful?
Yes, even though you are much safer after day 40, we still don’t have all the answers. It will take a number of months for us to have conclusive evidence about how well the vaccine works in elderly or very ill patients. In addition, we are still not sure how much vaccination keeps you from carrying and spreading the virus. We are likely to know more in the months ahead. For now, everyone needs to continue wearing a mask, practice physical distancing and handwashing.
How does the vaccine improve life?
Your ability to fight off an infection is much improved. Even if you are exposed to a person who is carrying the virus, you will be less likely to become sick. In the coming months, as many people become immune to the virus, life will gradually come back to normal. It will be safer to eat at restaurants, go out to movies and socialize. This will help the economy too. Most importantly, you will able to hug others with much less worry.
Will it be safe to travel?
Vaccination will make it safer for you to travel after day 40. As more people are vaccinated, more travelers will have immunity to the virus. Hopefully, the vaccine will decrease both the likelihood of people becoming sick and the likelihood of people spreading the virus. If results are good, there is a high probability that regulations about travel will change and travel restrictions will relax for people who are vaccinated. We should be hearing more about this in the weeks and months ahead.
If you have been vaccinated, will you still need to be quarantined if you are exposed to a person with COVID?
For now, the answer is yes. However, vaccination makes it less likely you will become ill. In the months ahead, we will have a clearer understanding about what to do in this situation.
Is it possible to get the flu shot at the same time as the COVID vaccine?
No, when the vaccines were first researched, the volunteers did not get the flu shot at the same time. Therefore the safety of receiving the flu shot at the same time is not established.
If you already had COVID, do you still need to get the vaccine?
This has not been studied and opinions vary although most experts say yes. If you have already had COVID, your body has some immunity. Although uncommon, recurrence of COVID has been reported and vaccination may strengthen your defenses. In addition, people should not assume they have had COVID if they have not been tested.
Will the vaccine be effective against the new Corona Virus variants?
Scientists are watching this very closely. So far, the vaccines are able to create immunity against the variants. The effectiveness of the vaccines will be studied carefully as multiple variants emerge.
Think of your vaccination day as your lucky day.
A little pain for a lot of gain. For me, it means I’m safer, my family is safer and my patients are safer!!
Warmest Aloha and stay well,
PS. I’m here to support you. Be connected, stay strong.
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