Had I been polled last fall, I would have registered as a Covid vaccine sceptic. I told anyone who asked that I was going to wait at least six months after a vaccine was approved, by which time I hoped we would know more about the degree and possibly the duration of its effectiveness and its potential side effects, especially in older adults.
I was hardly alone in my concern that political influence might result in premature approval of a vaccine before its safety was well established.
Well, that hesitancy quickly dissipated after listening to reports from the directors of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several vaccine experts I know and trust, all of whom gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
So in mid-January, when Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that residents 75 and older would qualify for the vaccine, I found a computerised link to schedule an appointment five days later.
At the mass vaccination site I went to in Brooklyn, everyone I encountered was cheerful, patient and reassuring, even the young woman checking me in who couldn’t find me on her list of 3pm appointments.
“Don’t worry,” she said reassuringly, “you’ll get the vaccine.”At the next window, a young man from Nigeria checked my ID and Medicare [medical insurance] card and figured out what had happened. Turned out I had inadvertently booked a 3am appointment, not realising the site was open 24x7. Another “don’t worry” and I moved on to a young technician from Florida who painlessly injected the Moderna vaccine into my left arm.
I then sat in a holding tent for 15 minutes to be sure I would have no serious reactions. The next day I got a text: “Hi Jane, It’s time for your daily v-safe check-in” and a link to a CDC site that asked: How are you feeling today? (Good, Fair, Poor); Have you had a fever or felt feverish today? (yes, no); followed by a symptom check, first at the injection site for pain, redness, swelling or itching and then generally for chills, headache, joint pains, muscle or body aches, fatigue or tiredness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and rash or any other symptoms I wanted to report.
Finally, I was asked several overall health impact questions about my ability to work and do my normal daily activities and whether I needed to consult a healthcare professional. I received the same text at the same time each day for more than a week and was also given a link if I wanted to send a report to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
The second dose, administered 34 days later, went even more smoothly. By then I had spoken to dozens of others of various ages who had gotten both shots. Only two reported bad reactions — fever, nausea, extreme fatigue — that lasted a day or two. I was prepared for the worst, but it never happened. My arm, shoulder and neck hurt the first night, but most of it was gone the next morning. Although my son was on call in case I couldn’t walk my dog, his help wasn’t needed. I was even able to swim that afternoon.
But I assure you, even if I’d had a bad post-vaccine reaction, I would have sucked it up as a small price to pay for protection against a most devastating and too-often deadly disease like Covid-19. And I will continue to urge everyone and anyone I meet to do their utmost to get immunised against Covid-19, especially now that potentially more potent variants are beginning to appear and spread.
The more people who become immune to the virus, the less this scourge will be able to mutate and evade the vaccines already available and the updated versions of vaccines scientists are now scrambling to produce.
Some people, hearing that vaccinated people may still be able to spread the infection and should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing — which I will definitely do even after being fully immunised — question whether it pays to get the vaccine. Absolutely, it pays.
While there’s a chance that an immunised person might be able to infect others, existing evidence suggests the risk is very small. Far more important is unimpeachable data that the vaccines are life-saving. They nearly eliminate the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death from the virus. Of the 32,000 people who got the vaccine in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials, only one person developed a severe case of Covid. Even if future mutations of the virus make an annual booster necessary, what’s the big deal? We already do that with the flu shot.
Keep in mind, too, that up to a third of people who develop Covid-19 can end up with debilitating symptoms that persist for many months, perhaps indefinitely for some. This is not always just a bug like the flu or common cold that is over and done with a week later. Eight months after recovering from a rather mild case of Covid, an otherwise healthy middle-aged friend said his lungs still hurt when he exerted himself.
I can’t wait to again attend live performances of classical music and opera and watch movies and plays not on my computer or television but on the big screen and in the theatre with others who can laugh, cry or sneer with me. But until most of us are reliably immune to the coronavirus that has terrified and secluded so many of us for so long, none of this can happen.
Meanwhile, I will continue to present the known facts and try to dispel misleading information about the vaccines. And I’ll hope that celebrities who enjoy the respect of vaccine-hesitant communities will be able to convince their members that controlling Covid infections and spread is critical, not just for their own sake, but for the future of their families, their towns, their country and a life that might again assume some semblance of normal.