While we were all sitting at home for most of 2020, I kept reminding myself that scientists were rapidly working on a COVID-19 Vaccine. Once community spread of COVID-19 became wide spread, there really wasn’t going to be another way out of the pandemic. When the vaccines were first made available, I was fortunate enough to be one of the first in my area to get fully vaccinated. Most readers of my blog know that I spend a lot of time with Botox®, fillers, and cosmetic surgeries. While that’s true, I also get called on to fix a lot of facial trauma.
This means lots of exposures to emergency rooms and intensive care units where there are lots of COVID-19 patients. We have absolutely seen a local surge. Over the summer, we didn’t see very many COVID-19 patients. However, on New Year’s Day, I was in the emergency room of a busy local trauma center and fully 1/3 of the patients there had COVID and needed to be admitted to the hospital.
Because I am absolutely at risk because of my job, I was quite enthusiastic about receiving the vaccine as soon as it became available. I realize there’s a lot of skepticism about it, so I wanted to share my experiences with you all.
But first, how do they work? WARNING! SCIENCE AHEAD! If you want to skip the science, skip ahead to the picture of my daughters and a dinosaur.
The Science behind the COVID-19 Vaccine
As of mid-January, 2021, we have two vaccines that are available in the USA. One is made by Pfizer, the other by Moderna. Both vaccines are mRNA vaccines. What is that? Most people have heard of DNA, which is the molecule that has the codes to make you, you. Enzymes in your cells read DNA and make mRNA. The ‘m’ in mRNA stands for messenger. As the enzymes run along a particular part of your DNA, they spit out a strand of mRNA. This strand goes to a structure called a ribosome which reads the mRNA strand and makes a protein based on the message encoded in the mRNA.
Think about it as a computer and a printer. Your computer holds the code for a document that you want to print. It sends a signal to the printer which reads the signal and then spits out the document for you. Same idea with DNA, mRNA, and ribosomes.
In any case, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines contain mRNA code for a protein on the outside of COVID-19- the red ones on the patch shown above. When the mRNA gets taken up by your cells, it is read by ribosomes which start to churn out the proteins. It’s not actually making the virus and you can’t get coronavirus from the vaccine.
The protein that is generated then gets recognized as a foreign substance by your immune system which then makes antibodies against it. Your immune system then remembers the foreign substance so it can protect you should you ever be exposed to the real thing.
Because the two available vaccines use mRNA technology, there are major challenges to widespread vaccination. mRNA is a wimpy little molecule that doesn’t stay around very long. It has to be kept very, very cold to be stable. Major hospitals are the only places that have the super cold refrigerators needed to keep these vaccines stable. More robust vaccines using different technology are coming, and those are going to be the ones that will be more widely available since you can just use a normal refrigerator.
Johnson and Johnson is developing one of these new vaccines. It takes the DNA from an adenovirus- adenoviruses are common viruses that can cause colds- and inserts DNA from the coronavirus to make the same protein that the mRNA vaccines make. Same ultimate goal, but just a different way of making your body build the coronavirus protein. DNA is a lot more stable. In fact, a lot of the usual childhood vaccines use this technology.
As I understand it, once the vaccine is approved- hopefully within a month- they will be distributed through your local CVS stores just like a flu shot. Another advantage is that it’s likely only going to be a single dose instead of two shots spaced out. Vaccines like these are the ones that are really going to help us get ahead of the pandemic.
So, how was the shot?
Ok, enough science! I got my first COVID-19 Vaccine on the Monday before Christmas. I got an e-mail saying I was eligible and signed up online through Johnston-Willis Hospital. Even though I showed up late (as always…) it was a pretty easy process. The shot itself is easier than a flu shot. Then, I had to wait 15 minutes. They monitor you because there have been a few reports of allergic reactions. I was fine. Picked up my kids, went home and proceeded about my evening.
That night, my shoulder really started to hurt while I was trying to sleep. I sleep on my left side and I guess that really disrupted things. It didn’t occur to me to take anything for the pain, but I could have taken Tylenol. In any case, my shoulder was pretty sore for a few days. I was also pretty tired.
I’m not sure if I was tired because of the shot, or because I’m over 40 and don’t bounce back as quickly from a night of poor sleep, or for any one of many other reasons. I didn’t have a fever or anything else and worked a normal schedule.
With the Pfizer vaccine, you’re supposed to get it three weeks after your first one. This would have been a Monday which was really busy, the start of a really busy week for me. And the word on the street is to expect a more robust reaction from the second, so plan on being able to take a day off. Well, that wasn’t going to happen, so I got it two days earlier on a Saturday. Everything I read said getting it a couple of days early wouldn’t matter.
The shot itself was the same as the first one. Go in, get it done, hang out for 15 minutes, go home. I felt basically fine for about 12 hours, then started to have temperature problems. I never had a fever, but felt hot. I took my temperature and it was 96.7! It was almost like hot flashes that would come and go. This lasted for about 48 hours and I’ve been fine since.
That reaction was merely a sign that my immune system was recognizing the viral particles and going into action. So it’s actually very reassuring that I felt that way!
What about other things?
I’ve seen talk on social media with people worrying about the vaccine for various reasons. It would be great for us to have ten years of safety data on the COVID-19 vaccines, but unless you’re ok with the pandemic going on and having to wear masks through the 2020’s, that isn’t going to happen. The technology has been developed for years. In fact, the J&J vaccine uses tried and true vaccine technology. You are definitely more likely to get sick and die from COVID-19 than you are to have a serious problem from the vaccines.
I can definitively tell you that the Wi-Fi signal in my house is no better or worse than before. Also, my phone still says it’s detecting 4G signals, so I’m not emitting 5G.
I have not had the urge to go out and buy a bunch of Microsoft stuff, even though Bill Gates was helpful in financing the vaccines.
I do not glow in the dark. I did not grow a third arm- although that could be useful at times given my job.
The Bottom Line
The COVID-19 Vaccines are safe and effective. They will keep you from dying from COVID-19. We haven’t proven it yet, but I’m sure that data will come out that you can’t transmit it once you’ve been vaccinated. So, if you want to get rid of your mask, get vaccinated. Since our masking and social distancing strategies haven’t worked, we have to do something else to beat the virus. Get vaccinated.