Two People, Two COVID-19 Vaccines, Two Final-Dose Stories
Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
Well, folks, I got my second COVID-19 vaccine on January 20! You should have seen the big smile on my face. I know that very soon I'll be 95% less likely to come down with COVID. I also was vaccinating people at Chelsea hospital that day, and lots of people coming in for their first shots had huge smiles on THEIR faces too. A wonderful day.
I'd hoped to tell you the side effects were minimal. After the first shot, all I had was a sore arm for about three days. But, well, I can't lie. All those "bothersome" side effects I talked about in my last blog article? I had almost all of them. Funny thing is, my husband, Bruce (also a pharmacist), got his second shot the day after I did. So we both have stories to tell. But this is my blog, so I get to go first.
The first 36 hours
My second vaccination came at 11am, just before clinic hours started. I worked there 'til 3pm then ran some errands, cleared snow off the driveway, made dinner, all the normal things. The only things I noticed were pain at the injection site and a mild headache that I told myself was probably my imagination. Even went to bed and fell asleep feeling fine. Then -- it hit.
Around midnight I woke up with severe shaking chills that lasted for close to two hours. Soon after that I noticed painful abdominal cramps and nausea. Those symptoms backed off a little so I got a couple more hours of sleep. But I woke up feeling lightheaded, weak, and unsteady on my feet. I had a low grade fever the whole day, no appetite, mild headache, and muscle pain. Starting in the late afternoon I gradually began to feel a bit better. My fever broke overnight.
The happy ending
After all that, I woke up feeling like a new person on Friday! Energy was back, all the discomfort gone. My arm, where the vaccine was injected, was even pain free. Overall, my side effects started about 12 hours after the vaccination, and lasted about 24 hours.
Now on the other side of that, I'm glad I chose to free up my schedule the day after the vaccination. I also know that the discomfort I felt after the 2nd shot was just my body doing what it's supposed to do - generating a robust immune response. I'm still ecstatic about having chosen to be vaccinated.
My Experience with the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
This is my first (and, after she reads it, perhaps last) blog post for my wife’s business. First, a little plug. She founded BetterMyMeds due to her passion for helping people get the most value from their medications and improve their health in the confusing world of health care. I hope that my small contribution to that helps her, but most importantly that my experience helps you better understand different experiences with different COVID vaccines.
My interest in writing this grew when we found out that we both were going to be vaccinated for our second dose on the same day, but with different vaccines (Moderna for Betty, Pfizer/BioNTech for me). We planned for this event, taking time off work the next day and looking for streaming options we could binge watch while eating comfort food in case our reactions were worse than we expected. What I didn’t count on is my second dose being delayed until the day after hers. But this gave me a chance to observe Betty’s experience before my dose. My ever-competitive-self decided that whatever she experienced, mine would not be as bad. So here we go.
I received the first dose on December 30th. I continued with my normal activities even after it became sore later that day. The next morning I felt a bit ‘punky’ as if I was on the edge of a cold, but that feeling went away quickly after my morning caffeine. I had no other side effects -- my arm was sore for about a week, lessening a bit each day.
I received the second dose on January 21st at 12:06 pm.
The first thing I noticed was a strange sweet taste on my lips for about an hour after the injection. Was this the fabric softener on the mask or a reaction to the vaccine? Who knows - like many people I always search for an association when something unusual happens. I had some nausea (it went away after eating), a metallic taste in my mouth, and some excess salivation. I also drank LOTS of water throughout the day. My arm started getting sore about 3 hours after the injection but it didn't keep me from lifting weights as usual. Otherwise, I felt fine until bedtime.
Since Betty had gotten chills about 13 hours after her vaccine, I prepared by wearing socks to bed and having an extra blanket available just in case. But I had vowed to Betty that I was not going to react like she did. At 1:46am, 13½ hours after my vaccine (I "won" by having this happen 30 minutes later!), I woke with uncontrollable shaking chills that just would not stop after about 45 minutes despite using another blanket. I had a low-grade fever by this time and was uncomfortable and wide awake. I quickly came up with a new strategy -- a heating pad on my back (turned up to high) while I sat on the couch under two blankets. Brilliant! It worked! My chills went away completely and never came back. In fact, I felt good enough that I drafted about half of this post between 2:30am and 4:30am.
I went back to bed at 7:00am and woke 2½ hours later with a low-grade fever (100.3) and I spent the rest of the morning watching the Michigan High School football championships and struggling with a 4-hour headache. By early afternoon I started to feel better, but took another nap when my temperature peaked at 100.6 in late afternoon. By bedtime I felt better again and, when I woke up the next morning, everything was normal other than a swollen lymph node under my left arm. As expected, I had no nasal congestion or respiratory symptoms typically seen with colds or the flu.
Overall, two different people taking two different vaccines had similar, but not identical experiences. It is normal for different people to respond differently. One thing I want to emphasize is I chose not to use fever-reducing medicines (like Advil, Alleve, and Tylenol). Those medicines are great for relieving discomfort from vaccines. But there's a possibility they may make vaccines less effective. The research isn't conclusive, but since my symptoms were tolerable I decided not to take the chance. If I’m going to get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, I want my body to be ready in case I get exposed in the future.
Why did I take the vaccine and endure these brief, but irksome side effects? First, working in health care, I’ve seen the COVID surges that cause ICUs to fill up, Second, I know people who have family that have gotten ill and/or died. Third, I have worked with stressed front-line healthcare workers who deserve a break. Personally, I did not want to risk getting more serious problems that come with COVID-19 like myocarditis, damaged lung cells, life threatening blood clots, or a stroke. Also, I had no desire to become one of the so-called “long haulers” – people who have continued problems with memory and energy loss. I felt that in my case, the inconvenience of about 24 hours of pain and cold-like symptoms is a much-preferred result compared to the alternative.
We both have co-workers, family and friends we want to protect in the event that we need to see or work with them in person. We want the pandemic to safely and quickly resolve so that life can get back to ‘normal’ and we can socialize again.
Thanks for letting me share my story and I wish you the best in your journey.
Well, that's our collective story
Not everyone has noticeable side effects after the second shot. Two of my colleagues who got theirs along with me were doing just fine at work the day I was being a couch potato. And I've heard no one say they had side effects severe enough to make them wish they hadn't gotten vaccinated.
Do you have lingering questions about side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines? Are you still wondering if you should be vaccinated? Contact us at BetterMyMeds with questions or leave a comment below. Our goal is to help you stay as healthy as possible!
Bruce Chaffee, PharmD, is Director of Pharmacy Analytics, Quality, Regulatory, & Safety at Michigan Medicine and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Pharmacy, University of Michigan College of Pharmacy