I received both my Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccines. Here’s my experience.
My aunt keeps pestering me to find out if I have experienced any new mutations, so I’d like to start with: No, I am still not eligible to join the Avengers. All my limbs are intact and none of them are spewing lasers or cobwebs.
If you have questions about the mRNA-based vaccines, this CDC webpage has a good FAQ section.
My university prioritized all healthcare workers in phase 1A, which included pharmacy students. Phase 1A may sound like the front of the line but 1A is further broken down into 1A-1, 1A-2, and so on. From hearsay, pharmacy students were in Phase 1A-6. I got my email that I was eligible to receive the vaccine around Dec 20th, which was early. I believe I may have been prioritized slightly earlier than other pharmacy students because of some of my predisposing health conditions.
My first dose was scheduled on Dec 23rd at 2.30PM.
Receiving my first dose vaccine was exciting. I have been following the vaccine development closely, and to finally see it in a syringe before my very eyes was astonishing.
It stung a little as the needle breached my skin, but it was not nearly as painful as when I received my HPV vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine felt just like receiving a flu shot.
The only thing different from the flu shot was the degree of soreness. I had a very, very sore arm after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. I resisted taking ibuprofen for the first evening because I anticipated it to fade like the soreness of a flu-vaccine. I was wrong, and the pain persisted and worsened over the night. It made sleep very difficult because any movement that touched my right arm would trigger a shot of pain.
I did take ibuprofen the next morning and the pain dulled significantly, and I was able to complete some home remodeling projects I had lined up for the Christmas break.
My advice: just take that ibuprofen or Tylenol (acetaminophen) when the pain begins and save yourself a bad night’s sleep!
The good news: the pain was completely gone by the end of Day 2.
The first dose only protects up to 50% of those that receive it, and the second dose is known to boost it to 95%. So, it is extremely important to receive the second dose to ensure you are protected from COVID-19. With that said, it is widely known that the side effects from the second dose are significantly more uncomfortable than the first dose. More than 50% of recipients report headaches, chills, and muscle aches. In anticipation for this, I scheduled my dose on a long weekend so that I could recover from it without taking time off of my rotations.
The arm soreness did not kick in until about 6 hours after the vaccine and I also began to feel chills. There were slight muscle soreness and a slight headache that slowly worsened over the evening. That night, sleep was again difficult as the soreness worsened.
!! An important note !! These side effects are an excellent sign that the vaccine is working. The soreness, headaches, and chills are all signs of an immune response against the COVID-19 vaccine. In other words, my body noticed the vaccine (which was making little “fake” viruses) and knew to quickly mount a response and eliminate it.
I will not mince words and say the second day after the vaccine was truly awful. My body burned with aches, I had a bad headache, and there were flares of muscle pain that would come on and off throughout the day. The pain was severe and I could not even distract myself with my phone or with the TV.
I took some extra strength Tylenol and that dulled the pain and discomfort significantly. By the evening, I was comfortable enough to eat and to watch a few episodes of Bridgerton (!).
Today is Day 3 and the pain and discomfort is completely gone. There’s still some residual soreness on my left arm, but that’s about it.
//edit: This was published in the afternoon of Day 3 when I felt great. That night, I had felt very lethargic and feverish. I have had some rashes (unclear relation to vaccine) sporadically at Day 5 and 6. As of writing this edit, it is Day 11+, and I have had no symptoms since.
It is important to note that I did not experience shortness of breath, dry cough, loss of smell or taste, or any debilitating symptoms. This is a huge difference from actually contracting COVID-19.
My advice to you when you get yours:
- Have sufficient Tylenol with you, and take it as soon as you begin to feel the soreness.
- Get the vaccine in your non-dominant arm. I made the mistake of receiving it in my dominant arm (right arm) the first time and that made completing tasks difficult. For my second dose, I received in my left arm and though it was sore, I was able to carry on with my day without wincing constantly. On either arms, the pain lasted 2–3 days.
- Allow yourself at least a day of rest after the second dose. I was lucky I received my second dose on a long weekend and I am able to recuperate from the effects. Be prepared to take a sick day off after your second dose. If you are not able to do so, avoid planning important meetings or tasks the following day after your vaccine.
- Remind yourself and others that 2–3 days of discomfort from the vaccine is minor compared to the symptoms and effects of the actual COVID-19 infection. I would rather receive the vaccine a hundred times over than to to be infected by COVID-19 even once.
The light at the end of the tunnel
I am now fully vaccinated and before long, it will be your turn. Hope is thick in the air. Keep social distancing and keep wearing those masks (I know I will continue to wear mine). I am hopeful that by the end of 2021, we will be able to see each other in person again.