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On Call: What's the Vaccine Like?

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 15:57
After his second dose of the Moderna vaccine, the columnist developed a fever of 102 overnight and was tired and achy the next day, but by the day after that, the symptoms had resolved.

As New York hopefully stands on the cusp of more widespread Covid-19 vaccine availability and distribution with pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS beginning to accept appointments for eligible New Yorkers, I want to share my own experiences with the Moderna vaccine to help people understand the side effects and reassure them about its safety. 

As a frontline health care worker, I was lucky to receive my first dose of the vaccine a few days before Christmas. Having worked intermittently in the hospital taking care of Covid patients for the past year and also doing testing in my clinic, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity, not just for the protection it would offer me but also as a way to show my trust in the vaccine and contribute to decreasing the spread of Covid-19. 

The first shot went much as most vaccinations do. My arm was a little sore and swollen for about a day, and I felt a little more fatigued than usual the next day, but was completely back to normal by the day after that. In talking to friends and colleagues who have been able to receive one of the available vaccines, many have reported similar experiences after their first dose. 

Having read and written about the vaccines and their safety, efficacy, and side-effects profile, I knew that more significant side effects were possible when I went back to the hospital four weeks later for my second dose. And they definitely happened. 

After the second vaccine, my arm was again sore and slightly swollen within a few hours. Then, I developed a fever as high as 102 and chills overnight. By the time I woke up the next morning, I was tired and had muscle aches, much as I would feel if I had the flu. I took Tylenol, drank water, and was fortunate to be able to rest that day. By the following morning, all of these symptoms had resolved. 

My experiences in this regard have mirrored those of many people I've spoken to and many descriptions I've read. Not everyone experiences the full severity I did, but some do. Side effects range from just feeling fatigued and a little achy to the full-on array of fever, chills, and aches. These symptoms, if they occur, should resolve quickly. Any atypical effects, such as cough or shortness of breath that occur in the days after your vaccine, or prolonged typical ones, like a fever that lasts longer than 48 hours or so, should prompt evaluation by a medical professional for other causes. 

As miserable as I felt for that day or so, I never worried that the vaccine had given me Covid itself. This is because the available mRNA vaccines do not actually contain the virus, but simply the instructions in messenger RNA for how to build a surface protein from the coronavirus that our bodies' immune systems can recognize in order to develop an antibody response. The fever, fatigue, and aches indicate my body did just that. 

Was it a comfortable process? Not at all. But being able to do my part to keep my family and my patients safe by contributing to the overall decrease in severe cases and maybe even transmission (this is still under evaluation in terms of the virus) was never far from my mind and made the experience worth it. 

I hope that when your time comes and the vaccine is offered to you, it will be worth it as well. 

Joshua Potter, D.O., a physician with Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's Meeting House Lane Medical Practice, oversees the practice's Shelter Island office. He specializes in family and neuromusculoskeletal medicine. Opinions expressed in this column are his personal and professional views and not necessarily those of his employer.


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