The year 2020 was challenging for the best of us, and most people had to significantly change their lifestyle to protect themselves and others from the widespread effects of COVID-19. However, with the approval of new vaccines, many of us are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the good news, these new vaccines still come with many questions on the part of the public. Is the vaccine safe? When will I be able to receive the vaccine? What are the possible side effects? Thankfully, the CDC has created a comprehensive informational guide to answer these questions and more.

What is the actual experience of getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

We asked Melvin Fowler, FiftyForward Bordeaux center director, about his experience when he recently received the Pfizer vaccine. He said, “I’m a big baby when it comes to needles … but it was so easy. When I was told to relax, I just dropped my arm. I felt nothing. The entire process was staged well. After the shot, you had to wait 15 minutes to be sure there are no [immediate] side effects. It’s that simple.”

I also received the first dose of the vaccine recently, and my experience was similar. I first had to register for an appointment. After registering, I received an email providing the location of my appointment and further instructions on what to do when I arrived. Upon arrival, I was required to present ID to confirm that I was the same person who filled out the initial survey and then had to fill out a second survey determining my eligibility to receive the vaccine. It asked questions such as whether I had been in contact with a person testing positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks, and if I had ever experienced an allergic reaction to any vaccine or medicine before. The answers to these questions do not necessarily prevent you from receiving the vaccine, but the staff may want to ask some follow-up questions to make sure you will have a safe experience.

Then, I was directed into the room where the vaccines were being administered. It’s important to make sure you wear clothing that provides easy access to your upper arm, and from there it is no different from receiving a flu shot or other injections. The nurse then provides you with a card that confirms that you have received your first dose of the vaccine, and the date for your second dose should be stamped or written on the back. After that, as Fowler said, you are asked to wait for fifteen minutes in a recovery room, to make sure there are no immediate side effects. You are then free to leave. The nurse who administered my dose also advised me to frequently move my arm for the rest of the day to prevent some of the soreness that can occur.

According to the CDC paperwork the nurses gave to me upon leaving the appointment, common side effects from this vaccine may include soreness and swelling around the injection site, headache, fever, fatigue, and/or muscle ache in the rest of your body. Some individuals have reported this feeling like a mild case of flu. None of these side effects mean a person has contracted COVID-19, or that they are contagious in any way. Symptoms should alleviate within 24-48 hours, but it is advised to call your doctor if they do not, or if they worsen.

The paperwork also advised that it is important to remember that two doses of the vaccine are necessary to be fully effective. We must all keep in mind that the vaccine may not protect you until a week or two after the second dose and even then, these vaccines are only 95% effective—not 100%. Therefore, it is important to continue to follow the CDC guidelines of mask protocol, social distancing, and good hygiene even if you have been vaccinated. Remember, you are doing this to protect both yourself and those around you.

We encourage you to visit the CDC website and/or speak with your doctor to make your own decision about the vaccine. We look forward to the day when we can all safely see each other in person.

By Elliot Burnette
Development and Marketing Assistant