This week’s COVID Catch-up: The woes of vaccine side effects

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Carrie Steinweg shares her thought process when thinking about getting a vaccine, and the stark reaction she had to receiving her first dose

COVID Catch-up is a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss any COVID Catch-ups. Last week’s column is available here.

By Carrie Steinweg
COVID
Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

LANSING, Ill. (April 7, 2021) – Have you ever had a gut feeling and then went against it and then later wish you’d gone with your gut? I’ve been feeling that way.

I’ve been following the vaccine information closely and paying attention to possible side effects. I’m typically a very optimistic person, but I figured with the luck I have had this past year, I wouldn’t be one that would get the vaccine and get by without any reaction other than a sore arm for a day as some people have been reporting.

Vaccine for those who have had COVID?

Since I had COVID already last fall, I tried to find information unique to my situation. I read that some new studies found that previously infected individuals would need only one dose of the vaccine.

Reading this in a WebMD.com article was encouraging and gave me hope I’d only have to get one shot: “People that have had COVID before, they make antibodies very quickly to much higher levels than those that had no experience with the virus,” said Dr. Viviana Simon, senior researcher on one of the studies and a professor of microbiology and infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “That led us to the conclusion that a second shot of the vaccine should not be necessary in individuals that have been previously infected,” Simon said. “That would save vaccine doses and also would limit the discomfort experienced by people upon vaccination.”

A study from the University of Maryland had similar results. “I do think that there is emerging evidence that someone with prior COVID infection may be able to achieve sufficient immunity with just a single dose of a two-dose vaccine regimen,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

I was happy to read this and hopeful that just one dose would be sufficient. Not only would it minimize possible reaction by having it once, rather than twice, but it would free up more doses for others and allow more people to be vaccinated faster. I saw that at least one other country (France) was following this one-dose practice for previously infected individuals to faster vaccinate more people.

Then I went back to the CDC’s website to find that two doses are recommended for everyone, even if you have already had COVID. Despite the evidence in the studies, they are deemed to be too preliminary. There’s still a lot to be learned about the virus and the vaccine and throughout the pandemic, the CDC has erred on the side of caution.

After reading the CDC recommendation, I was heavily leaning toward waiting for a Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine to be available in the area because unlike the versions by Pfizer and Moderna, only one dose is needed. At the time I started looking there were just a few locations in the state offering it and none of them were in the south suburbs. I also felt like I really didn’t need to be in a hurry. I’m still away from home very infrequently. And when I recently donated blood, I received information that my blood showed antibodies to COVID.

Reaction to vaccination

But, even though I made the decision to wait for availability of the one-dose vaccine, I ended up giving into the pressure to get vaccinated as soon as possible. I had one well-meaning loved one going to websites and to try to register me, assuming I would fall into the obese category and then telling me I was “close enough to be being obese” to qualify for phase 1B+. So, as soon as an opportunity to get the Pfizer vaccine became available, I took it and got vaccinated.

I’m glad shot number one is behind me, but I’m definitely hesitant to get the second dose after my reaction to the first. The evening after getting my shot I was sitting at my computer and felt a warm rush start at the top of my head and work it’s way down and as it did, I felt completely drained. I looked at the clock and it was four hours to the minute from the time I got my shot. My eyes suddenly felt heavy and by the time I made it to the sofa I was shivering. I bundled up and quickly fell asleep, waking up a few hours later, feeling slightly better, but within an hour my head pounding and I was unable to open my eyes and look at the light.

The next day was spent in bed. I ached all over, alternated between chills and sweats and had no energy to get up. I also had a sore throat, nausea, and my head continued to pound. And still with a diminished sense of smell and taste, it felt like I had COVID all over again. By the fourth day the headache has subsided, but the exhaustion and aches continued. I could get out of bed, but was feeling foggy and not able to concentrate. After 12 to 15 hours in bed each day, I have been lucky to get an hour or two a day where I can get up and accomplish anything.

It’s been frustrating to say the least. After 2 1/2 weeks, the fatigue is still constant and the aches linger. And although the time for dose two is approaching, I am so reluctant to chance going through it again. And I wonder if I should get another dose when I’m still having side effects from the first dose. I’m awaiting feedback from my doctor, but expect to be told to get it anyway. I may have had the same side effects with choosing the one-dose vaccine, but I’d only have to go through them once. And so for that, I regret not going with my gut.

I wasn’t sure if I should share this in a column because I don’t want to discourage people from getting the vaccine and I am sure readers are getting tired of hearing my complaints about having COVID. I’m not against getting a vaccine. I had just hoped that my previous infection would provide more protection — before the vaccine was introduced I thought I may not have to get one at all since I’d have antibodies. And now as I fear of how I may react to dose #2, I wish I had been more patient and waited to get the one-dose version.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Carrie, I applaud your courage in telling your story. Melanie and team, I applaud your courage for running it in a broader cultural/media environment that frowns upon anything that might cool the fervor of the current ‘Get vaccinated!’ campaign. Carrie, please don’t get the second shot. In your case, it sounds like the cure might be worse than the disease. My family and I all had covid in January. We do not plan to get the vaccine. We are thankful for medical professionals in our lives who have pointed us to a ‘minority report’ among medical professionals who have a different take on things like the value of natural immunity, T-cell immunity, vaccination immunity and the use of therapeutics (natural & pharmaceutical). Thanks for being a plucky local paper! Respect! This article has prompted my wife & I to give a donation in return for the great work you are doing.

  2. I’m posting this comment on behalf of a reader who sent an email in response to Carrie’s article: “I just read the update Woes of Vaccine Side Effects, and want to pass along one thing which we think really helped us to have no side effects and also others I’ve told, is to be well hydrated in the hours before and after the shot. Many people just don’t drink enough water normally, so drink up for the vaccine!”

  3. One last comment for Carrie, I should have included in my earlier comment: I’m praying for your full recovery.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Carrie! Sometimes our ‘gut reactions’ should truly be listened to instead of all the constant pushing from the world around us. You have made me more determined now to get the J&J when I can because I fear the consequences of getting the other brands. I hope the side effects will be totally out of your system very soon!! And thanks to Melanie for having your item in our Lansing Journal. Sometimes its just a good idea to not force a square peg into a round hole!!

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