A COVID Vaccine Experience
I am writing this as a wife, mother, friend, and doctor of my patients (men with prostate cancer).
COVID19 has wreaked havoc in our lives the last year. My hope is that our future will look different than our current situation where masks, full hospitals and intensive care units, distance from loved ones, and tragic loss of life will all be a memory.
I recollect the initial announcements that the vaccine trials had reached statistical significance, with press releases describing 90% plus effectiveness. Like everyone else, I was skeptical as the complete data was not yet available for review. I was surprised when the FDA rapidly responded mid-December with not only discussion and review of the vaccine trials, but with the Emergency Use Authorization approvals. The official data was released to the public upon FDA review so that when the vaccine was available to healthcare providers (HCPs) 3 days later, on 12/14/20, the studies could be reviewed by the HCPs taking the vaccines.
I must admit that I was envious of healthcare workers across the city, state, and country as they posted their pictures of vaccine administration starting on 12/14/20. The initial dosing of the vaccine corresponded with a significant uptick of cases diagnosed locally and nationally, as well as cases diagnosed in people whom I consider “my people” — patients and their families, HCWs, friends, family. In fact, I watched COVID19 hobble families, hospitals, clinics with resulting admissions, extended sickness, and death.
As I have reviewed the published data for the two vaccine trials, Pfizer and Moderna, I have recommended that my patients take the vaccine — whichever is available, whenever available. In fact, up until last week I also told patients that the moment I was eligible for the vaccine, I would gladly and joyfully take it. Patients have expressed concern about the rapidity of the trials – months – when usually it takes years. First, the mRNA technology being used in these two vaccines was developed years ago and has been tested in humans before in an attempt to vaccinate against other infections with safety of the vaccine noted. Second, the trial reached statistical significance, more than 90% reduction of infection, so quickly because the trial countries have been so inundated with COVID19. It did not take long for enough trial participants in the placebo arm to develop COVID19 infections for results to show a benefit.
The side effect/adverse events profiles were such that the risks of the vaccine, and the benefits of not contracting COVID, greatly outweighed the risks of me developing COVID19 with not only the illness of acute infection but the longer-term impact, unfortunately including death. Yes, the risk of anaphylaxis is present, but for me and for my patients, the risk of COVID19 outweighs the risk of severe allergic reaction.
I received my first dose of the vaccine on 12/28/20 – mild arm soreness was noted. Since I am not a professional athlete, no one cares about my arm being sore! I did experience achiness, headache, and a need to nap about 72 hours later, which thankfully corresponded to a day at home. Others who have received the vaccine have also reported arm soreness, with some reporting similar symptoms to what I had. I would classify these as “immune effects” where my body is recognizing that the spike protein from the vaccine is an unwelcome invader, so it is mounting an immune response which led me to feel the way I did. It was inconvenient, but you know what would be more inconvenient for me? COVID! A few people who have already had COVID19 described feeling slightly more severe symptoms such as fever and chills which generally also suggest an immune response. — Of course, as appropriate, one should also be evaluated for other causes of fever, such as COVID. — For specifics, the side effects profile for each vaccine is available online.
I am not making a recommendation for anyone who is not my patient specifically. That is clearly a decision for you to make about your body, with your doctor. There are definitely people whose risk of COVID complications, or their risk of transmission to a person at high risk, are both low so that their risk of vaccine complications could outweigh getting COVID. I wish we knew whether or not having a history of COVID protects from contracting COVID again. I wish I knew what to tell women of reproductive age or women who are breastfeeding. While soft recommendations are made by the various societies (American College of OBGYN) for these women, that is a decision between each woman and her doctor. There are definitely unknowns about the vaccines currently available as well as those likely to be approved in the future (J&J, Astra Zeneca). I cannot wait to someday read the book about this past year, the vaccines, what we learn from the people taking the vaccines now, and what we learn about the longer-term impacts of COVID infection.
But what I do know for me (and what I am recommending for the patients under my care) – COVID19 infection risks and side effects exceed the vaccine risks.
This is an essay and represents my opinion and not that of my employer, UCA. It does not represent medical advice and does not represent the formation of a patient-doctor relationship. As always, you should receive medical advice from your doctor about what you should do.
Again, this is only an opinion of what I am saying to my patients and what I am doing with my own body. I continue to wear an N95 mask at all times in the public as the people who see me are almost all high risk.
Like I tell my patients, only my husband and daughters see my mustache!!!
Joelle Hamilton, MD
Disclaimer: This blog is a personal opinion and the decision to take the COVID vaccine is a personal choice and should be discussed with your primary health care provider.