On January 12, 2021, I became a recipient of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. As a healthcare employee, I became eligible despite not being patient-facing. It was much sooner than I ever anticipated. The decision to participate in the vaccination process did not come lightly. Truthfully, I am currently balancing on a tight rope of gratitude, privilege, health anxiety, and fear. There’s still so much that is unknown about the vaccines and the virus itself. As an early recipient, I wanted to share my experience openly and honestly. The purpose of this is not to convince you to receive the vaccine or not. As someone that is just like you, fearful, skeptical, concerned, and a host of other feelings/emotions, I want you to have an account from a real person. As you can see, this is part 1 to represent the first dosage. I will post again after receiving the second dose.
Let’s start by addressing some frequently asked questions. Please note, I am not a scientist, physician, or licensed healthcare provider. I am simply a nerd trying to figure this stuff out.
What is the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine?
Moderna is a biotechnical company based out of Cambridge, MA. The company primarily focuses on engineering medications based on Messenger Ribonucleic Acid (mRNA). mRNA is the genetic material found in our bodies that contain special instructions for creating different proteins. In this case, the mRNA found in the vaccine is synthetic. The purpose is to provide the body’s immune system with instructions on producing antibodies to combat infection from COVID-19. This way, if you were to contract COVID, the severity of the illness can be lessened, your body is more equipped to fight it. It is a defense mechanism against a foreign invader your body may or may not recognize.
The Moderna vaccine is not a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medicine. An FDA approved vaccine does not currently exist. The two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are available under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). An EUA allows the FDA to make certain products available to the public during public health crises and emergencies. They must meet strict FDA criteria, while still going through the rigorous approval process. In terms of the vaccines, to approve an EUA, the company needed to demonstrate that there is significant evidence to support that the vaccines are safe for usage, alternative approved medicines do not currently exist to meet the need, and the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
What’s in the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine?
The short answer is a whole bunch of science. But here’s the ingredient list: messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol, and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]), tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate, and sucrose.
Does the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine contain COVID-19?
The vaccine does not contain traces of the virus. You will not become infected with the virus due to the vaccine.
Is there an age limit on the vaccine?
Currently, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for people 18 years or older.
How long do you have to wait to receive the second dose?
There are four weeks, or 28 days, in between receiving the initial injection and the second booster.
What are the side effects?
According to the CDC, common side effects include redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site. Additionally, fever, chills, tiredness, and headaches. An allergic reaction is also possible.
Do you have to abide by the COVID-19 guidelines after receiving the vaccine?
Yes, yes, and yes! It is important to maintain social distancing, mask-wearing, and any other guidelines. The vaccine is to help the body fight the virus, not make you invincible.
See the end of this post for additional resources regarding the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.
If you’re still skeptical about the vaccine, I am right there with you. The way that the United States has handled the pandemic thus far has not cultivated trust. I am skeptical about the government entrusting an experimental company that has never brought a treatment to market. What suddenly makes Moderna’s products a viable option? Pfizer is a recognizable name, but I am still not convinced. On the flip side, we receive innovations from underground companies and relative unknowns all the time. There are medications on the market today from well-known companies with dangerous side effects, ones we use to keep us functioning. The truth is pharmaceuticals come with risks. Most times, the benefits outweigh the risks, but they’re there.
Personally, being a Black American, I am very mistrustful of healthcare as a whole. Historically marginalized communities have been exploited for the advancement of medicine for centuries. Medical racism is real and prevalent. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting Black and Brown folks across the country. How can I trust that I’ll be treated with the best care? I don’t even receive that consistently at an annual well-visit.
Another concern I hear and have expressed myself is that the vaccine feels rushed. It does feel strange that a vaccine is available less than a year from the onset of the pandemic. Don’t vaccines typically take years to produce and finalize? Then I remembered that we live in the future! Though the strain is new, the disease family is not. Scientists have been working on coronavirus vaccinations for years, ideally preparing for this very moment. For professionals in the field, a pandemic occurring was a matter of when, not if.
Lastly, how is this vaccine going to affect people? People still have to take it to find out. I have the advantage of working with physicians, researchers, and public health experts, asking them questions without judgment. I was also able to witness their experiences receiving the vaccine, both doses. It put my mind at ease. If all my doctors became sick, it was going to be a wrap! However, it’s only been a month since their complete vaccinations. Everyone is different; we have to be vigilant about ourselves since we know our bodies best. There are a lot of opportunities for unknown side effects to present themselves.
As you can see, I have been thinking seemly contradictory things for a while; this is only a small summary of how my thought processes how been. I thought I was going to wait as long as possible before receiving the vaccine. I needed more evidence. I didn’t anticipate being offered it this soon. After flip-flopping and feeling anxious, I decided to go for it. I decided that the long-lasting detrimental impact of COVID-19 is far greater than the effects of the vaccine. I will admit that after receiving the shot, I went through a spiral of buyer’s remorse. But as of right now, I do not regret my decision.
I arrived at my appointment at my local hospital, adorned in a hospital mask and face shield. The MA’s were incredibly pleasant, taking the time to explain the consent forms, the vaccine, and what I can expect. Since I am right-handed, I opted for the injection in my left arm. The shot was relatively painless. The tech gently placed the syringe on my arm. It was a small prick, like poking your finger with a sewing needle. They didn’t “jab” my arm. I have had instanced where this has happened, but I try not to assume each experience will be this way. It was so quick! I didn’t even feel it once they removed the needle. Fun fact, I used to have a fear of needles and would ACT OUT anytime I had a shot, #growth. In the same sitting, we made my appointment for the second dose. They provided me with a card to track my dates and a number on the back to call if I experienced complications.
After the injection, the 15-minute observation window begun. The 15 minutes is to monitor for any adverse reactions, especially an allergic reaction. If you previously had an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients listed in the vaccine, the observation time is 30 minutes. Medical providers were standing by just in case. My 15 minutes went by without concern.
1 Hour Later
An hour after receiving the vaccine, I began to feel tired and warm. I wasn’t feverish or to the point of sweating; it was more like when your grandmother’s home is too warm and stuffy. You can tolerate it, but you could be more comfortable. My body felt like it had a full day and was ready for bed, or at least a serious mid-day nap. I could barely keep my eyes open. I also didn’t sleep well the night before because I was so nervous, but I could certainly tell the difference. I didn’t work for the rest of the day. I stayed on the couch, occasionally dozing off.
4 Hours later
Soreness at the injection site began to develop. An expected, yet still mildly unpleasant, symptom. I typically experience soreness for a few days after a flu shot. It felt as if someone punched me in the arm, leaving an invisible bruise. I tried to combat the soreness by stretching, cold and hot compresses, and staying hydrated.
Soreness, lethargy, and body temperature changes continued into the night. My anxiety was high due to the day’s events.
Day two was more of the same. I woke up warm, too warm for my weighted blanket and comforter. I am usually a little chilly or just comfortable; this cycled throughout the day. I alternated between a sweater and blankets and a t-shirt. My energy levels still felt low, but enough to get out of bed and be alert. I had some trouble collecting my thoughts and concentrating, so I took it easy. I started work late, took frequent breaks, and didn’t extend myself. The soreness in my arm increased, also expected. I tripped on the scale in our bathroom and bumped my arm against the wall; it was very unpleasant. Right before bed, I developed a headache. It wasn’t painful enough for an over-the-counter intervention, but it had a good spread. I used an ice pack, laid in the dark, and closed my eyes for 15 minutes. It was gone.
The arm soreness began to decrease; I felt more flexibility. My body temperature seemed to normalize. I woke up again feeling warm, but it didn’t last as long. For the rest of the day, I felt like my usual cold-footed self. My lethargy also began to lift; I still felt a bit sluggish, but it was more aligned with my typical pandemic vibe. And, not that it’s a priority, I caught up on the work I let slide.
However, in the evening, I had a brief spell; it could be attributed to the vaccine or me skipping lunch, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. While making dinner in the evening, I started to feel flushed, light-headed, and nauseated. I heard a ringing in my ears and thought I was definitely going to be sick. I rushed to the bathroom so I could vomit but sat on the edge of our tub instead. The coolness was comforting. I sat in our empty bathtub, grounding myself with the feel of the ceramic. The symptoms left me as my body cooled down. After a few minutes, I rose from the tub and felt okay. It was strange and didn’t repeat.
Friday, January 15, 2021, the day I started writing this post. I feel so much better! I woke up early, completed a few chores, and outlined what I wanted to say here. The soreness in my arm is very minimal. My energy levels are up. My emotional and social capacity is still low, but that was before the vaccine. And will most likely continue through this pandemic. I haven’t felt any new symptoms or noticed anything strange. I still plan on staying vigilant until day 10.
My willingness to share doesn’t come from a place of convincing you to make a decision. As a fat, Black, queer person, not often a demographic looked upon for testimony, I wanted to provide insight. I can’t express enough how this is my individual experience. Everyone is different. There may be some horror stories out there. Do I feel super confident? No, not really. Am I nervous about the second dose? Hell yeah! Do I feel like I made the wrong decision? No, at least, not yet. I want to protect myself, my family, and my community. Not having anything wasn’t working too well; I figured we could give this a chance. The alternative scares me a lot more.
I will make a part 2 post after my second dose to document that experience. In between that, if applicable, I will write about any subsequent reactions to this first one. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, my friends. I hope this was helpful.
References and Resources:
Moderna Fact Sheet for Recipients and Caregivers (PDF)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: COVID-19 Vaccines
Food and Drug Administration: Emergency Use Authorization
Categories: Mental Health & Wellness, Social Commentary
Thanks for sharing, Tiara. I’m at the back of the queue for the vaccine, but it’s still useful to hear a first-hand account now. Keep well!