I work in Los Angeles county, one of the hardest hit areas of the state with the recent spike of COVID-19 cases brought on by holiday gatherings. I have seen firsthand what the disease can do and how easily it can spread if the proper safety precautions are not followed. When I was given the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December, I did not hesitate to take it. I’ve had both shots and I hope that by sharing my experience – as an Infectious Disease doctor, as a Blue Shield colleague, and as a father, husband and son – I can help you feel confident in the vaccine to protect yourselves and your loved ones.
I understood that the reason the vaccine was made available much faster than vaccines in the past was due to the upfront financial support and resources provided by the government and unprecedented worldwide collaboration from the scientific community, but I still needed to go to my trusted sources to feel good about the vaccine. I read through the information provided by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and local public health guidance and information. I also sought out information from well-known experts in the Infectious Disease and Public Health community. Most of this information is readily available to the public.
I was pleased to find out that the vaccines currently available are highly effective (around 95 percent) against the virus that causes COVID-19. This surpasses expectations and the levels typically seen with other vaccines. Are there side effects? Yes, but the rate of side effects and adverse reactions was low in the studies. There are going to be adverse reactions to some extent with any vaccine, medication or treatment, so it’s important to weigh potential benefits vs risks.
Weighing the risks and benefits
In my clinical practice, I have seen patients with comorbidities get severely ill and die from COVID-19. I have also seen relatively young and healthy patients develop severe illness from COVID-19 and die. There is also increasing information coming out about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on one’s body after recovery, and this is another important factor that I kept in mind as I was deciding whether or not to get vaccinated. For me, as I looked the potential risks and benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, I determined that the small risk of an adverse reaction to the vaccine was much less than the potential of severe illness or other chronic effects of the disease.
For those people who do develop an infection from COVID-19, it is recommended that they still get vaccinated as there have be reports and cases of people becoming re-infected after about 3 months, suggesting that natural immunity may not be as protective as we would like. The vaccine can help provide a better immune response in many patients.
Getting the shots
Everyone’s body is different, and everyone will have their own unique reaction to the vaccine. I had mild body aches at the injection site and felt a little off after my first dose but was able to work and was fine by mid-afternoon the next day. My immune system really kicked in after the second shot. I had pain in my arm where I got the shot, chills, body aches and headache for more than a day. I took some Tylenol, rested the day after and by the following day, I was feeling better and back at work. Right now, I am almost a month out from my second dose and feel great.
No matter what your personal reaction to the vaccine, it cannot give you COVID-19 as it is not a live-vaccine. The effects a person feels are their immune system building protection from the virus. Surprisingly, I am grateful for that day of not feeling so great! My body was doing its job.
The State of California is currently in the process of revamping the distribution and process for getting vaccinated. I encourage you to refer to your local county’s public health websites for the latest guidance on how to determine your eligibility to get the vaccine and to schedule an appointment. You can also sign up to get notified when it’s your turn for the vaccine on California’s My Turn website.
Vaccinating vulnerable populations
As more vaccine becomes available, it is so important that we make sure vulnerable populations get equitable access to the vaccine. Communities of color, undocumented people and frontline, low wage workers are among those populations that have experienced worse outcomes from COVID-19. They are also among those that are more hesitant to get the vaccine for various reasons. I encourage anyone that is hesitant to get the vaccine to talk to well-informed people they trust. Dr. Seth Glickman, myself and others at Blue Shield will continue to share what we know.
Making sense of the misinformation
There are many places where you can learn about facts vs fiction of the COVID-19 vaccine. One of my trusted sources is the County of Los Angeles Public Health. Their COVID-19 Vaccine Myths page is a great resource. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Blue Shield also have good resources.
Protecting loved ones and my community
Getting the vaccine is more than just an important way to protect myself form getting ill. I also wanted to protect my loved ones, my patients and community. By getting the vaccine and continuing to wear a mask, wash my hands and watch my distance, I will be helping to stop the cycle of spread and you can too. If you have older people in your household or people with compromised immune systems, getting the vaccine is one of the best things you can do to protect them from COVID-19.