WARSAW – Thursday I got the jab – the first round, anyway. For those of you unfamiliar with British slang, what I mean to say is I got the first round of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
So far, other than a sore shoulder – that is much better as I write this Saturday – I feel fine.
As an emergency medical technician who volunteers in King & Queen County, I was invited to join a throng of first responders from all across the Three Rivers Health District – which includes Essex, Gloucester, King & Queen, King William, Lancaster, Mathews, Middlesex, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland counties – who got the first of two shots needed to provide some immunity to COVID-19.
When I got the invitation, I wasted no time RSVPing “Yes!” On the appointed day, I jumped in my car with my security detail (a mutt named “Smoochie”) and headed up to Warsaw where the drive-thru vaccination clinic was being held.
Despite news reports of vaccine hesitation among health care workers – which is, unfortunately, a real phenomenon – I found a long line of vehicles – people – waiting to get vaccinated, many of them official vehicles representing the EMS and law enforcement organizations from the counties that comprise the Three Rivers District. Among them that day were at least two members of my rescue squad, including JJ, my driver for my shift later that evening.
Prior to the event, I was sent a registration form and a pre-vaccination screening form. I filled out both before I left, which sped up the process once I got near the front of the line. Given that the event was for first responders only, I was asked to present my credentials. I did not think to bring my rescue squad badge or identification card, but I did have my EMT credentials, which sufficed.
The wait to get to the front of the line was long, but it was encouraging to see so many of my fellow first responders doing the right thing. The volunteers and staff were doing their best to keep the line moving, but it does help to be patient – a task easier for me than for my excited, whining co-pilot with the whipsaw-wagging tail.
As I was about to reach the front, a Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteer took my paperwork, verified my identity and screening information. He filed the forms I brought and returned with a card containing my vaccination record.
DO NOT LOSE THAT RECORD!
The record is vital. Given that both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines consist of a series of two shots, one will need the record of the first shot to get the second. The card lists the date of the vaccination(s), the type of vaccination – Moderna for me – and list the date the cardholder should return for the second round.
The volunteer also offered information about v-safe, a post-vaccination health monitoring tool produced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Given that the development of the COVID-19 vaccines was expedited, the v-safe tool will provide the CDC valuable information about side effects.
When it came time to get the shot, my biggest challenge was to relax my left arm – the one about to receive the jab – while tensing my right arm as I tried to keep a very exited pit bull mix out of the way.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have been through Phase III trials and have been found to be both safe and effective, but, as with all pharmaceuticals, being safe does not mean zero risk of adverse effects. Among the more serious – but rare – effects are allergic reactions leading to anaphylactic shock. Providing accurate answers during screening and abiding by a requirement to stick around for 15 minutes after getting the shot minimize the chance of a serious allergic outcome.
I took advantage of the wait to let Smoochie out of the car so that she could burn off some excess doggie energy.
According to a November article in the journal Science, about 2% of vaccine recipients in vaccine trials developed severe fevers of 102 degrees or higher.
Reported severe side effects of the Moderna vaccine include fatigue (9.7% of trial participants), muscle pain (8.9%), joint pain (5.2%), and headache (4.5%). Rates of severe side effects are a bit lower for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The main effect I experienced was moderate soreness in my shoulder. It was noticeable, but not limiting.
I also needed a catnap while at the rescue squad later that night – but the trigger for that was more likely my advancing age than the vaccine.
As long as the virus is freely circulating in the population, it will have a chance to mutate into more infectious and/or more virulent strains. We’re already seeing evidence of that with the more infectious strains that have emerged in the United Kingdom and in South Africa.
The only way to contain the virus – and get our lives back to something approaching normal – we need to stop transmission of the virus, and the only way to reliably do that is to achieve a herd immunity of at least two-thirds of the population according to several recent studies.
The safest way to achieve that, according to a study published in September in Nature Reviews Immunology, is with an effective vaccine like the two (so far in the U.S.) that we have now.
Dave Lawrence is sports editor of The Mechanicsville Local and Ashland-Hanover Local. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.