Thursday, April 8, 2021

My Covid Vaccine Experience

If you're anything like me, you might have a lot of questions about getting a covid vaccine. Or maybe you're just rabidly curious about what the experience has been like for the people who have come before you. It was both for me, and I have struggled and stressed and gotten excited and asked everyone I know for their take on things. This post is wordy and detailed, but I thought I'd put all of it in one place for anyone who is curious. My feelings, my physical responses, and even the actual details of the process are all here for you. Take what you need. :)

The Before

Waiting to be Eligible

I didn't expect this to be a difficult part for me, but it was. Through this entire pandemic, we had to lock down to a greater degree than most people. If you would have said to me at any point prior to March of 2020 that I wouldn't see the inside of a Target store for 14 months, I would have thought you were nuts. But that's the level of locked down my family had to be with an immunocompromised family member under our roof. We didn't grocery shop (used Instacart), we didn't go into stores (ordered everything), we didn't dine out anywhere (ordered take out sometimes), and we certainly didn't gather with others indoors. It was hard, and lonely, and sometimes expensive.

That said, we'd always accepted that we had to be more strict and patient than the average family. And fully understood the privilege we had to be able to do so. We got okay with it - because we had to. And because of just, the nature of the vaccine rollouts and our specific circumstances, we assumed we'd be waiting until the late summer to get ours. Which was fine. Until it felt like everyone we knew, regardless of age or health conditions, had some sort of loophole to get theirs. And while I was always happy for them (and the overall health of our state and country), it was always hard to hear knowing we'd be last in line after already being more isolated and careful and overly restricted. It just hurt a little.

So you can imagine that I was elated and surprised when I heard that our state was about to open up eligibility to those 30 and up last week (March 30th). I thought we'd be months away, still! Of course, the announcement came on the heels of an article being published that NY was one of only three states not yet offering open enrollment for vaccinations and I think that hurried things along. I can't even describe the hope I felt when I found out it was our turn!

Booking My Appointment

Until it became very apparent that finding an appointment was a full time job. Again - one I had the privilege to take on. I had the technology, time, and skills to be able to monitor websites and groups and to endlessly refresh them until I found exactly what I wanted. They do not make it easy!

I had an already-vaccinated friend keeping an eye on things and sending me links any time she came across them. She also added me to a Facebook group geared towards getting the Buffalo, NY area vaccinated. It's full of tips and resources that were SO helpful - they've gotten thousands of people vaccinated through their efforts. (If you're local and would like to be added, let me know!)

Through some sleuthing I was able to get appts for both me and Matt at ECMC. However, they didn't specify which vaccine they were giving, and while I didn't mind getting either Pfizer or Moderna, I didn't want J&J. (Your own preference is totally cool!) I was worried about showing up and not wanting what they had to offer, so I kept searching for something more reliable. My sister found me a CVS appt for Pfizer, but it was kind of a drive. And then finally, a county clinic popped up nearby offering Pfizer and I was able to grab appointments for both of us on the same day. It took four days of constantly paying attention to it, but I finally got it settled!

So here are some tips for you:

  • Dedicate time to it. If you aren't able because of work or other hang-ups, try to find a family member or friend that has the time and resources to book an appointment for you. Someone you trust is best because they will possibly need your insurance info to book your appointment at certain locations. I'm also willing to help - shoot me an email at Jenn (at) enrychment (dot) com!

  • Check your state and county websites (for NY, that's here), but also check all the major pharmacies and grocery stores that are local to you. Every day I had tabs open for CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Tops, Wegmans, and a few local pharmacies. They all operate independently from the state and county run clinics so you have to check them all!

  • If a location says they are fully booked, that doesn't mean they are fully booked. Still click through the links and do so often! I've heard different theories for each location, but some refresh with canceled appointments at :00 some at :02 and some at :05. Play around with it and keep hitting refresh!

  • Try searching with your nearest city's name rather than your zip code. I don't know why, but this works sometimes. So rather than my zip, I would search Buffalo, NY and usually get better results.

  • For any websites that require an account, set them up ahead of time so you're not wasting time signing up while the appointments are being scooped up. Also, try to use the same device on your hunt so that your browser can utilize the autofill feature to speed up the process.

  • Try setting an alarm for 5am or even in the middle of the night. I've heard of people having success at midnight, 1am, 2am - and I found appointments by getting up at 5am.

Getting Ready

I've heard so many tips and thoughts about how to prepare for your vaccine and minimize the side effects, and I can't speak to any of this with authority, but here's what I did.

My vaccine was scheduled for April 2nd, which was two days before Easter. All holidays are less of an event these days, but I did have an outdoor family egg hunt planned on Sunday afternoon. And no one likes a messy house for any holiday - whether family and friends will see it or not. So knowing that I could potentially feel terrible the day after my vaccine, I cleaned my house like crazy on Thursday. I made sure all of the main living areas were decluttered, the dishes were caught up, floors were vacuumed and swept, and everything was ready for the Easter Bunny to arrive. I even told the kids they'd have to help me keep things as clean as I made them or the bunny might not be able to hide as much. So since no one knows what their side effects will be until it's their turn, I recommend getting as prepared as you can (whatever that looks like for you) to feel useless for a day or two.

I also spent the day and morning of chugging water. Like, all but drowning myself. I finally hit a point on Friday morning where my bladder was like, "can you not?" Hydrating seemed to be the key in minimizing a lot of people's symptoms, so I did my best.

And finally, I mapped out the drive and parking situation as best as I could before I went so I knew when to leave and where to go when I got there.

Oh, and bonus: since I hadn't been indoors anywhere other than the pediatrician's office last July, I planned to play it ultra-safe and double mask. A disposable under a cloth mask. I also made sure my purse had hand sanitizer ready to go. 

The After

How It Went

My vaccine experience couldn't have been better! I can't speak to every location and clinic, obviously, but here's how it went for me.

The location of the vaccine clinic I attended was clearly organized and very well done. There were signs everywhere making it incredibly obvious about where to go. As I entered the lobby of the building, there was someone right at the door who asked to see my appointment ticket on my phone and my license. She looked for my age and the date of my appointment. She then directed me to an area where there were several posters of QR codes and told me to scan it with my phone's camera and fill out the eligibility survey that it would bring up. She said that when I finished, there would be someone to show the confirmation screen to at the entrance to the gym (where the clinic was taking place). 

My first dose of the Covid VaccineWhen I made it to this next person, she reviewed my confirmation page and then instructed me to follow a line of social distance marks and keep my license and appointment ticket screen showing on my phone. About halfway down the line (which only had a handful of people ahead of me), there was a woman passing out pamphlets on the specific vaccine I would be getting and asking if I had any questions.

When I got to the end of the line, a woman wearing an actual crown and holding a wand to direct us was saying, "welcome to vaccination Disney World!" I loved the levity she added to the situation. She asked to see my appointment screen and license, and then we waited together while she scanned the room for a paddle with a green dot on it that a volunteer with an empty seat would hold up to indicate they were good to go. 

When I got to my seat, the person who administered my shot gave me a few facts about the vaccine (mostly that my arm would be sore, and I might feel tired and/or get a fever the next day) as she cleaned my arm with an alcohol wipe. Another assistant who sat next to her looked for my info on a computer and filled out my vaccine card. The vaccine was quick and virtually painless (Matt had gone earlier in the day and warned me that it burned, but I didn't think so - then again, he's never had a spinal before a c-section!) I got my bandaid and then was directed to a holding area.

Once there I was told to scan another QR code that would bring me to a link to schedule my next appointment and then choose a socially distanced chair to sit in for 15 minutes. I made my appointment for 3 weeks later, and when my 15 minutes were up - I was off!

How I felt

This is what I think I was most curious to hear from people - and if I'm honest, the most scared about. I'm not afraid of needles or the efficacy of these vaccines, but the unknown of how my body would react to it was worrying me. 

What I didn't expect, was the euphoria of hope and purpose I'd feel while in the clinic. It felt almost like voting did - gathering with others who were on a mission. I didn't know a single person in that room, but I still felt like I was in great company.

After my appointment, I drank tons of water. I don't think I've ever had a more hydrating day in my life! I can't say for sure if that's what contributed to my positive experience, but I will certainly do it around my second shot just in case it was. My side effects were as mild as they come. My arm was sore - the peak of that was when I woke up the next morning. It was gone by Saturday evening (so, maybe after 30-32 hours or so). I also had a bad night's sleep the night of my vaccine - I woke up repeatedly, had crazy dreams and felt sort of foggy headed. Matt said I talked in my sleep, too, which I never do. And then Saturday morning my stomach felt very very vaguely "off" - almost not enough to mention. I felt pretty lazy and tired that day (but whether that was an actual side effect or just because of my bad night's sleep, I'm not sure). I never got a fever, aches, chills, or actual nausea. 

Oh - I also head a headache on Friday. However, it started before my appointment. I was stressed and anxious, so I was about an hour into my headache by the time I received the vaccine. It didn't calm down after I did, though, and it got increasingly worse as the night went on. But, it was completely gone by the time I woke up on Saturday morning. So I'm not entirely sure if that was 100% stress or if the vaccine contributed to it, also.

- - - - -

Overall, I am SO grateful to be on my way to being fully vaccinated. Things in our household won't change too much for a while (not until our immunocompromised son can be vaccinated, which could possibly be by the end of the summer). However, I will definitely return to Target and Library trips, and I may occasionally dine with other vaccinated friends on a patio. Always safely and masked, of course.

I plan to return to this post once I have my second vaccine at the end of the month so I can let you know how the side effects from shot 1 differ from shot 2. Every single person's experience is different, but I'm happy to share and commiserate! Lots of luck to you on this journey - if you need any help finding appointments or have any questions about my experience, please do reach out!

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