My only side effects have been a sore arm and slight fatigue.
On Thursday, May 6th, I received my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Illinois at Will County Health Department's mass vaccination site.
I had followed the development of the vaccine anxiously since the beginning. I am fascinated by mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which can cause our bodies to create an immune response without using any of the actual pathogens.
How are mRNA vaccines different from traditional vaccines?
Traditional vaccines use a tiny bit of the disease to help our immune systems mount a response. But, mRNA vaccines are made differently.
They teach our bodies what the virus looks like without exposing us to the actual virus. Once our bodies have that information, they mount their defense. These vaccines aren't actually as new as people think. Scientists have been working on the technology for decades, which is one reason they were able to develop Covid vaccines so quickly.
I'm not a doctor or a scientist, and I'm explaining how mRNA vaccines work in the broadest of terms. If you'd like to read about it from the experts, you can check out this article from Harvard Health Publishing on the history of mRNA vaccines.
Finding an appointment
On Monday, April 12th, the state of Illinois made the Covid vaccine available for all adults 16 and older. It was a week later before the city of Chicago followed.
I was one of those early people checking numerous websites the morning of April 12th. My husband was already fully vaccinated for his work, and my daughter is too young to get her vaccine. So I only needed one appointment for myself.
It's easy today to get an appointment, and many Illinois clinics are offering walk-in vaccinations. But that first week, appointments filled quickly in the early rush.
All of the places I checked near me were full. And then I stumbled onto a Costco Pharmacy in Joliet that had openings for Tuesday. I had no idea which vaccine I had signed up for, nor did I care.
The vaccines may all vary slightly ineffectiveness, but all of them, the mRNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson are very effective at keeping people out of the hospital.
Unfortunately, I didn't find out until I went to my appointment that the Costco Pharmacy I was at only had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which they could not give out.
Slightly irritated the pharmacy hadn't bothered to tell me even though I'd received a text confirmation an hour before my appointment, I went home and back to the hunt for an appointment.
Will County must have opened up more vaccine slots because when I got home I was easily able to set up an appointment for the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Wednesday.
When I arrived, there was a woman taking temperatures and directing people where to go next. I then stood in a short line where I checked in with a member of the Illinois National Guard. There were many National Guard members there. They were very friendly and did an excellent job keeping things running smoothly.
After checking in, I had another short line to stand in. And then it was my turn. The shot was quick, and I won't say painless because it stung a little. It felt about the same as a flu shot, but much less painful than the tetanus shot I've recently received.
Next, I went to the last line, where they gave me information on the vaccine and told me how to set up my appointment for the second dose.
Finally, they asked me to sit in an observation area for 15 minutes to be sure I didn't have a reaction. During that time, I signed up for my second dose appointment and created an account for the CDC's V-safe After Vaccine Health Checker.
And then it was over. I felt fine, except for a sore arm, and drove myself home.
After the first dose
I was very tired that night and into the next day. My arm was sore, and I had a slight swelling around the vaccination site.
I expected the arm soreness to fade as it does with the flu shot, but it lasted two days. It bothered me so much at night that I woke up every time I moved during my sleep. I found that ibuprofen helped take the edge off, and by the end of the third day, it was gone.
Getting my second dose
The first shot only gives you some protection from catching Covid. But the rate of effectiveness is so much higher after the second dose, so I had no intention of skipping my appointment.
When I arrived at Will County's vaccination site, I saw the parking lot was emptier than the first time I was there. I had heard that demand for the vaccine in Illinois and around the country is waning, and this seemed to be the case. However, there were still lots of National Guard members there, and everything still moved smoothly.
There were no lines this time, and I was sitting in the observation area within ten minutes of my arrival. Just as with the first dose, I felt fine, though my arm started aching almost immediately. The nurse that gave me my shot advised me to take a Tylenol or Advil as soon as I got home to help ward off any aches and pains or a possible fever.
The day after the 2nd dose
I had my shot yesterday. I'm not even 24 hours out yet, so it is possible I could develop some other side effects. Again, I felt the arm pain and took the nurse's advice about taking Advil as soon as I got home.
Even with the Advil, my arm hurt overnight and woke me up every time I rolled over on it. Today, the pain is still there, but the Advil is helping. I'm feeling a little bit more fatigued than usual, but it's not bad, and I've had no other symptoms.
Two more weeks and I'm fully vaccinated
On May 20th, I will officially be fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, it takes two weeks after the second dose of Pfizer and Moderna, and two weeks after one dose of Johnson & Johnson to consider yourself fully vaccinated.
And now, I feel a tremendous sense of relief. It was emotional to get that second dose and think of the long road it's been to get here.
I've watched friends I love suffer from Covid. I've watched my daughter spend almost a year going to school on Zoom in her bedroom. I've missed seeing friends, and I've missed going places. I haven't seen my parents for a year because they live in a different state, and we haven't been able to travel.
I am ready to put the pandemic behind me, and the only way I can see to make that happen without countless more deaths is with vaccinations. I didn't get my vaccine only for myself. I also got it for my family that I love and don't want to leave behind. And for my community and for the hope of getting back to my life that I have missed.
I know everyone doesn't feel the same as I do about vaccinations. And I don't think people should be forced into getting a vaccine against their wishes. I do, however, hope people will keep an open mind and watch the success stories around them. I don't want to see anyone else I love suffer from Covid.
If you're ready to get your vaccine and you'd like to go to the Will County site, you can set up an appointment here. To find where to get a vaccination within the state of Illinois, you can start with their location finder here.