The last part of this three-part series has been almost impossible to keep relevant. It is understood that as soon as you hit publish the work starts aging–quickly. In this case, I have been chasing my tail trying to make sure that I am providing the most up-to-date information possible. I have realized that our modern-day info cycle is much faster than I will ever be, so I will just tell you about my experience with the vaccine and why you should get it as well.
Nuts and Bolts about the COVID-19 Vaccine
I was vaccinated in an early wave (being in healthcare and forward-facing, this was an option for all staff at Spectrum Health Care). This would have been in early January (the 7th to be exact). I had done all of the reading about both the Moderna and Pfizer options available, reviewed the FDA filings, made sure I understood what made up this vaccine. I did this not because I had vaccine fear, but because I knew that I was going to have to field questions. I was surprised by how very little there is to the vaccine, the ingredient list is super short:
- mRNA – this is the part that makes it all work (so the important part). It also makes up the smallest part of the vaccine in total.
- Lipids – lipids are fat, and we all know how our bodies love to soak up fat. Four common lipid molecules are used, most of them can be found in our common food supply. These are nothing special for sure.
- Acids – Not the scary kind that will eat your face off. Think pickling additives, it what makes pickles sour. It’s there to help stabilize the lipids and provide some level of preservative factor.
- Salts – Sodium is a great stabilizer and preservative and is necessary for metabolic process in the human body, but it is far from exotic.
- Sugar – Our bodies love to suck up sugar just as much as the love the fats. And remember what Mary Poppins said, “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down”. In this case we are far from a spoon full.
More information about the ingredients and their function in this vaccine may be found on the University of Cincinnati Health website.
In total, the vaccine is only 0.5ml. The flu vaccine, by comparison, is 0.25ml. So this tiny amount of fluid made up of mainly food grade stuff is pushed into your arm (in the muscle) and your body has to do all of the work. That tiny amount of mRNA is enough for your own immune system to start producing the antibodies. That injection fluid is only going to be in your arm, are you ready for this, for five to ten minutes. THAT’S IT! Your body is going to start to work right away. And don’t think that this is some special or magical process, it’s not. We as humans do this all day, every day.
So, for me, the biggest stress was the needle. I don’t do particularly well with shots. In this case it was done before I even had time to get worked up about it. I didn’t even feel the shot. Then you wait, for 15 boring minutes. Just to make sure all is good. And if you are person who does well with the flu vaccine, then you are more than likely to do ok with this. If you have an autoimmune disorder or have allergies to other vaccination, then you should talk to your physician prior to getting the shot. You will more than likely be told to get the vaccine but to be prepared if there are UNLIKELY side effects. If you have an abnormal reaction, you will be in the less than one percent club. If you adjust this number for all the vaccination and allergic reactions that are possible the COVID vaccine is one of the better tolerated, probably because there is so little to it.
So, your 15 minutes is up, and you go on about your day. What happens next is different for everyone. For me I had 10 hours of feeling fine, nothing that would indicate that I was going to have a reaction. On the back end of those 10 hours, the preverbal bus hit me. I had fever and chills, body aches, and was super worn out. Now this was not a major inconvenience because it was bedtime and just slept it off. The next day I got up, was a bit tired and my arm hurt. All of this was expected. There was no lasting effect, in two days I didn’t feel like I had done anything at all. Different members of our staff (we all did it at the same time) had slightly different reactions, but it was all good.
Now we jump ahead to the second shot, about 25-28 days later. Second shot, short wait, and nothing. It was anticlimactic. I don’t know what I expected, I was hoping for superpowers, to be honest. But what I was left with is sort of a superpower, I have immunity. Well, almost as it takes about two weeks to get to full immunity. Even after your first shot it is estimated that you have about 35% immunity. Not bad at all.
I really believe that I am the common story, and that is that there isn’t much story. I know we all want a good medical tale to tell when we get back to our social groups, but vaccination isn’t going to be root of the tale. I would caution you to not get too invested in tales of horror about someone’s vaccination experience, always consider the source. I am not going to say that it isn’t possible that people had some unpleasant stuff happy, but I think there are more people looking to tell a tall tale, than there are people who had issues.
SHC Staff Experiences
At the end of the day, here is what we, the SHC staff, experienced, and it is important to note that none of these symptoms lasted more than 48 hours.
- Body aches (think flu-like symptoms)
- Sore Arm (again, think flu shot)
- Unusual metallic taste in the mouth
- Decrease in Tinnitus symptoms
Not one person had all of these. Two of our staff had already had COVID and cleared it prior to getting the vaccination, and they both agreed that getting the vaccine was much easier than having COVID. It is important to note that the two staff who did get COVID are still having some lingering issues, mainly around taste and smell. Yale Health provides a full list of the most common symptoms after receiving their vaccination.
The goal of any vaccination program is to get to a level (heard immunity) that effectively limits the ability of an illness to be spread. Current statistics (as of June 2, 2021) show that in the United States, 40.9% of adults are fully vaccinated; in Missouri that number is 34.4%; with 42.7% in Boone County. We need to get to 75% of ALL citizens vaccinated before we can expect the spread to stop, so we have a way to go.
The CDC has modified its recommendations for masks and groups, but these recommendations are for fully vaccinated persons. The interim guidance now states that if you are fully vaccinated, you may resume activities as you were prior to the pandemic. That means that you have had your two shots and are at least two weeks out from the last shot. If you are not in that group, then you still need to mask up and socially distance. If you don’t know the verified vaccination status of everyone in your group, then it would be best to wear a mask. For me, I still mask up when I am at the grocery store or the mall, or other areas in mixed company outside of my family and friends who I know have been vaccinated. I have the masks already so it’s not a big deal. Read the full details of the current CDC recommendations for those fully vaccinated here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html
If you really want to enjoy a society that it fully open and with reduced risk, then we all need to do our part to stop the spread. We need to get vaccinated, and we need to continue masking up (even vaccinated folks can carry and transmit the COVID virus). So if we all play along and do our part, we can really get back to our new normal, hopefully a better normal that we had before.
What All This Means
I am in no position to tell anyone what to do, we have free will, we can do as we please. With that said, GET THE VACCINE! If you have any interest in getting back to some sort of new normal social interaction, if you want to unmask safely, if you want to be in a theater and experience something new with a large group – GET THE VACCINE! Today if you want to find a tale of horror you can, but what you don’t find are the boring tales that tell of nothing happening. That stuff doesn’t make headlines, there is no story to follow, there is nothing to grab your attention. The vaccine is safe; it protects us – all of us.