My Covid-19 Vaccine Experience and What I Wish I'd Known Before
Plus, ways to help improve access
It’s now been one week since I received the first dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine. I found the process very confusing to navigate and wanted to share my experience so others can feel more prepared (I hope this is helpful whether you’re getting vaccinated next week or in 5 months).
First things first, the process nationwide has been a disaster. It varies by state but after talking to friends and family, most states are struggling (shout out to West Virginia who partnered with local pharmacies to facilitate distribution), and the end of the pandemic feels farther and farther way. It’s frustrating to see the racial inequalities of the pandemic continue with this process especially when there was almost a year to prepare. After failing at literally every aspect of managing this pandemic, the government is continuing to fail. In New York, many people from outside the city have taken doses that were meant for city residents. Sites have gotten stricter as a result.
Here’s my experience, which is not medical advice. Details about the registration process are changing daily in New York. If you have any medical questions about the Covid vaccine, ask your doctor or check your local health department or the CDC.
Sign up and preparation:
I was very fortunate to be able to schedule an appointment once I became eligible (I’m a part time teacher). I scheduled an appointment for January 21st at the Bushwick Hub, which is at a high school pretty close by. On January 20th, that appointment was rescheduled for the 28th since the city ran out of doses.
A friend posted about her vaccine experience a few days before mine and I messaged her with questions. She told me that I’d need a QR code to enter the site, which I would get after completing a day of health screening on the portal. I got no reminders from the portal but the morning of my appointment, I logged on, filled out the forms, and sure enough, a QR code arrived.
Getting the shot:
Once I had my forms and QR code, I double masked and got on the subway. I brought my work ID and a pay stub to the site (they request you to bring proof of eligibility, which they did not check). I got to my appointment early and waited outside in the cold for about 45 minutes (side note: these sites should have longer operating hours, mine didn’t open till 10). They opened the doors and let in everyone with QR codes. That left about half the line without the codes. Workers went to help them and they all got in eventually, but it was definitely a hold up and meant more time outside in the cold. If the QR codes allegedly speed up the process, there needs to be better communication around them and alternatives for those who can’t navigate the technology.
Inside the school, everything went smoothly. We were shown to the gym (the workers made sure everyone kept distance) and got assigned a table with a nurse practitioner. She confirmed my appointment, checked my name and date of birth and gave me the vaccine. It goes in the muscle near your shoulder, so wear something you can easily roll up or take off (a button down or loose sweatshirt would be good). I got it in my right side because I’m a lefty. After I got the shot, she filled out my vaccine card and gave that to me (mine was Moderna). Then I was ushered to the school auditorium where everyone had to wait for at least 15 minutes to make sure we had no adverse reactions.
They encouraged us to use that time to schedule our second appointments for 28 days later, which I did on my phone. There were also workers with iPads to help people schedule, but some of them didn’t seem too familiar with the system. There were papers with QR codes to the sign up portal that didn’t work, which was interesting after all the fuss with QR codes coming in. Scheduling a second dose was a little clunky—you had to re enter a lot of information, including photos of your health insurance card. It was a lot to do immediately after getting the vaccine but I wanted to make sure it was taken care of. While we were in the room, they also mentioned some side effects in passing. After 15 minutes, I left and went to L’Imprimerie for a croissant to mark the occasion.
I got home, warmed up, shared the news on Instagram and tried to work. I was a little distracted and tired, which I assumed was because I didn’t sleep much the night before (I was worried the appointment would be canceled last minute or that something else would go wrong). My arm started to hurt pretty quickly but most of the day was pretty normal. I did my shift at the fridge, went to book club on Zoom and went to bed.
The next day, I felt pretty terrible. My arm was extremely sore. Doing everyday movements like putting on a shirt or reaching down to plug your phone into a charger was quite painful. I was really fatigued and had a bad headache. I also didn’t have much of an appetite but made sure to drink a lot of water. There’s not a ton of research on side effects (and I believe mine still count as mild because they didn’t last more than 48 hours and I didn’t get a fever) but I’ve heard that the Moderna has worse side effect. Sometimes younger people have more intense side effects.
I did my best to work on Friday (I had one call that was a real struggle) but wish I had cleared my schedule (and that I, and everyone who gets the vaccine, had PTO). I tried to nap and waited to feel better. Around 6:30 pm, I got a burst of energy and got out of bed. I moved to the couch, where I ate some dinner and read while Dale watched basketball. My arm hurt less and I could move it without as much pain. I went to bed and slept for about 10 hours.
By Saturday morning (48 hours after the vaccine), I was feeling a lot better. Still a little bit tired but I ate normally, took a walk and had energy. Sunday was the first day I really pushed myself by exercising and taking a long walk to drop off compost. A week later, I feel totally fine and will be more prepared for my second dose.
What I wish I knew:
If you’re getting the vaccine (or someone you love is), my best advice to to prepare for side effects. You might not experience any, but I’d take a day off or give your manager a heads up if possible. If you have a choice, don’t get your vaccine right before a high stakes meeting or big move. When I get the second dose, I’ll be clearing my schedule for the following day in case my side effects are similar. If it’s better, that will be a pleasant surprise.
Especially if you live alone, make sure you have food on hand in case you’re too tired to go out. I also had some gatorade which was nice. Experts say it’s okay to take Tylenol or Advil after the vaccine (but not before), so make sure you have that on hand.
What to do next:
After you receive your vaccine, you still need to mask and keep distance because we don’t know if vaccinated people can transmit the virus. In a few weeks, I’ll feel a bit safer, especially in situations where I work in person, but my day to day life won’t change.
The vaccine process requires a lot of community care and support. The government is failing so we have to again, step up. Locally, NBK Vax is working to help with vaccine scheduling, transport, and more. If you know people getting the vaccine and you’re tech savvy, you can help them schedule appointments and check in with them afterwards. If you know people who are reluctant to get the vaccine, share research with them and listen to their concerns. Since my appointment last week, the City has changed its vaccine portal, and changed eligibility requirements (finally restaurant and delivery workers are included!). It’s a lot to keep up with and finding information is a challenge (the City’s Covid vaccine hotline launched only in English for goodness sakes).
If you’re not yet eligible, help others and wait your turn! It will also make your own experience smoother when it’s your turn, as you’ll be familiar with the systems and range of side effects. I get so much joy whenever I see a newly vaccinated person on my feed and cannot wait for everyone to get it. Especially for young, tech literate people who can safely stay home, helping others is imperative.
Thank you for checking in on me after my vaccine and for reading.