Getting the Covid-19 vaccine: My experience

*Disclaimer* This article should not replace medical advice and is intended as an account of my personal experiences when receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Any scientific information will have sources provided at the end. If you have any concerns about your medical eligibility for a vaccine, speak with your GP. For up to date COVID-19 vaccination information visit the NHS COVID-19 vaccine info page – links available at the bottom.

Whilst the summer may seem a distant few months away, young people will soon be called up to receive their first dose. I want to share with you my experience at a mass vaccination centre when I got my first jab, in the hope that I can help to quell any nerves and maybe answer some questions you have about the process and the vaccine itself.

How are you eligible for a vaccine at this stage?

I am a COVID-19 vaccinator for the NHS. I was actually given my vaccine first thing in the morning during my first official shift – so I had a bit of a sore arm for the rest of the day, but the sooner the better!

Which vaccine did you get? Does it matter?

I got the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. No, it doesn’t matter and here’s why… If you’ve read the news you’ll have probably heard the term ‘Efficacy Rate’ and from that you’ll have heard that the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine has an efficacy rate of about 94% and that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is only about 76% (varying slightly depending on which study you read). So surely that means the Pfizer vaccine is better? No. In the opinion of the experts, efficacy rate is not the most important measure of how ‘good’ a vaccine is. This is because the purpose of all of these vaccines is to prevent serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been found to be 100% effective in preventing this when fully vaccinated (link to sources are at the end) with the Pfizer also putting up similar numbers. So which is the best vaccine? Quite simply, the one you’re offered.

How do I know when I can get a vaccine?

My experience was out of the normal process as an NHS staff member, but I know of people getting text messages, emails and/or letters urging them to book their vaccine via the national booking system. As age has been found to still be the most significant risk factor (amongst others), under 30s will be the very last group called up, so hang in there if that’s you!

How does it work at a vaccination centre?

The mass vaccination centre I mainly work at is set up with one thing in mind – safety. Everyone is required to wear a mask (unless medically exempt), one way systems are in place to make sure you do not pass people going the other way to you and seating is spaced out and sanitised between uses. In fact where I work, there is only seating available to those who cannot stand, the vast majority of people queue standing, 2 metres apart and are triaged and vaccinated standing also. This is all designed to reduce the surfaces you touch and people you have contact with.

Does it hurt?

I cut myself when outdoors and had to get a Tetanus booster recently – that jab hurts in my experience. Tetanus is a vaccine everybody gets initially as a baby, with frequent boosters into our adult years, which we accept, as it would be foolish to refuse, as a Tetanus infection is deadly. I’ve given a lot of injections over the years and I’m still not sure what it is that affects the pain. Is it the skill of the clinician or the substance being injected? Or both?
My COVID-19 jab was totally painless (my sore arm came later), and I do get lots of nice compliments when giving it in the form of: “Is that it?”, “I didn’t feel a thing” & “Have you done it yet?” So maybe you all need to just be jabbed by me if you want a totally pain free experience, or it isn’t a widely painful injection.

Did you have any side effects?

I had a sore arm for the day and a headache in the evening, that was it. I had worse side effects from the seasonal flu vaccine back in December. My Dad and Sister both have had the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine with no side effects. My partner, Mum and best friend all had the Pfizer vaccine, with only my partner getting a sore arm. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because you’ll only hear about the people who had the vaccine and were in bed for a day, but in reality these side effects are uncommon and usually very mild. If you need any more convincing, even at their worst, any side effects are a lot better than contracting COVID-19 and suffering the potentially serious consequences or lasting damage the virus can cause.
And no, the vaccine cannot give you COVID-19, the way vaccines are created makes this impossible, period.

I’ve had COVID, aren’t I already immune?

If you’ve recovered from COVID-19 then you should have antibodies to protect you from that variant, if you come into contact with it again. But you still need a vaccine. Natural immunity is notoriously unreliable and much shorter lived than immunity via vaccination. Plus previous infection only protects you from the variant you were infected with. This is a simplified explanation, as new vaccines to protect against new variants are being developed as we speak, but in short – you still need a vaccine, even if you’ve had COVID. Just think back to the number of times you’ve had the common cold and you’ll be able to see why previous infection doesn’t grant immunity for life.

I heard that after one dose you’re 70% protected, that’s pretty good, should I bother with the 2nd dose?

Yes, you need to get the 2nd dose. Whilst its true that after the 1st dose you are granted a certain degree of protection, this will not be as effective or last anywhere near as long if you don’t get your 2nd dose. See it through and get the full protection the vaccine can offer. Not getting both doses will put yourself and others at unnecessary risk.

Why should I get it? I’m young, healthy and not at risk of dying from COVID-19.

Firstly, no one is totally safe from serious illness or death, no one. Secondly, this mass vaccination programme isn’t just about protecting you, it’s about protecting every single person you have any contact with and any person they contact and so on…
These vaccines have been found to significantly reduce transmission, as they reduce the amount of virus you ‘shed’ as well as protect you from illness. So if COVID-19 enters your system, as well as helping you not feel sick, the vaccine also reduces how likely you are to pass COVID-19 onto someone vulnerable (remember for medical reasons, some vulnerable people cannot get a vaccine, the vaccine may be less effective in some individuals and also some people will just refuse it, making them at risk too). Even if you don’t have contact with vulnerable or un-vaccinated people, which if you go out to the shops or just into public is extremely unlikely, you could still be the beginning of a chain that leads to someone who is at risk, and you’ll never know. During this pandemic, the effects and consequences of your own actions often go unseen. Plus, the sooner we are all vaccinated, the sooner normal life can return.
So do your bit to get us back to how life should be and get a vaccine if you can (the overwhelming majority can), if not for yourself, then for others.

Final thoughts

If you do get a vaccine, even though it’s easy, in my book, you’re a hero and you helped solve this mess.

Stay safe and look after each other.