I finally finished my COVID vaccine series this last Tuesday (as per the excited photo used in this post). I restrained from posting the obligatory photo of me getting the vaccine, my Band-Aid, my vaccination card, etc, this time around. The purpose was I wanted to see HOW I responded to the vaccine first, and then put it all together. Below is my experience of both the first and second shots, as well as what we are seeing in the medical communities in terms of symptoms after inoculation.
First, What Are the Side Effects?
To start, I honestly hate using the term side effects. That usually indicates that something is happening that is not supposed to. If you read my initial post on the vaccines, you will know that after an immunization it is not uncommon to get reactogenicity symptoms. These are symptoms of your immune system responding to a foreign antigen, and usually are represented by soreness, swelling, fever, body aches, fatigue, etc. These are NOT mistakes, but signs of your body doing its job when creating an immune response. If you need a refresher on the common reactions seen with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, you can check out my posts on those.
I received my first shot in the afternoon, knowing I had the next day off from work (I didn’t plan it this way – I just have Wednesdays off). It was surprisingly painless when I received the vaccine. Some shots tend to burn upon injection, but with the minimal components in these vaccines that initial burn did not seem to exist. I had no allergic reactions or other symptoms, and was out of the building within 30 minutes.
24 hours after that first shot, I had some soreness in the arm, but no redness, swelling, or other symptoms. My upper back was a little tight, but I am unsure if that muscle pain was shot-related or due to other causes. All of these symptoms were gone the following day.
3 weeks after the first shot, I received my 2nd. This time, I had it done in my left arm (opposite the first time). To be honest, I was trying an experiment when I did this. Both vaccines have shown increased lymph node swelling after the 2nd dose, and I was curious if I did it on the opposite side of my body if this would reduce that chance. This is not a good scientific model, so don’t take this as any evidence. I actually asked a lot of pediatricians within a Facebook group that same question, and I got a variety of answers of people doing it in both arms or opposite arms, also yielding a variety of symptoms post vaccine, including lymph node swelling in the vaccinated arm the second time around, despite having received the shot in the other arm for the 1st dose. In other words, just do it the way your doctor recommends.
Again, I had no significant reaction the first 30 minutes after the shot. I had some soreness start to kick in about 40 minutes afterwards, but nothing else occurred that day. The next morning I awoke with some redness, swelling, and tenderness at the injection site (see the image for this blog post) and some mild muscle pain into my left upper back and neck. This muscle pain could be related to the vaccine, or due to the fact that my wife is having me do a 45 day yoga challenge. If you know me, I don’t think my body was built for yoga.
I am now more than 48 hours out, with mild redness and soreness at the site that is better than yesterday, but no other symptoms.
With all of that said, I think I got off pretty easy here. I have heard of others having worsening pain, headaches, fatigue, chills, fever, etc. These have almost always resolved in 24-48 hours, but it still makes you feel crummy. However, I would NOT recommend skipping the vaccine just to avoid a day of discomfort.
Of note, some people are also noticing redness and swelling at the injecton site a week out from getting the vaccine. this has been in both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Most likely this is due to what is called a delayed hypersensitivity reaction and may last several days and then will go away. Again, this is not harmful to you.
If you are unsure about getting the vaccine or not, I would ask you the following hypothetical questions: If you had to get a shot the 1st of the year that would GUARANTEE you would stay healthy that whole calendar year, preventing you from significant illness and death, but you felt terrible for a week after the shot, would you do it? Basically, would you trade a week of feeling crappy after a shot for a whole year of health? If you said yes, now would you do the same if the shot was 95% likely to give your protection with the same duration of side effects? What if the side effects were only for 3 days instead of a week?
You can practice this with yourself, determining what your personal cutoff is in terms of vaccine protection vs risk for reactogenicity symptoms. If you said NO to the original question, then you are probably one of the very few people who will never get a vaccine. But if you said yes, then recognize that these vaccines have not shown any significant long term side effects and create great protection from a very serious and contagious illness. If you still aren’t sure about yourself getting it, throw your friends and family into the equation. What if you getting that shot in the first questions also affected the health and wellness of them? Would that change your mind?
Stay Healthy. Stay Safe.
Imperfect Dad, MD