Comfort Follows COVID Shot

April 15, 2021

My Vaccination Experience

Kathryn DePauw
Editor in Chief

I sat in the waiting room, feeling more nervous than I thought I would. I wasn’t quite sure why as I was objectively excited to receive my COVID-19 vaccine. I spent the prior 12 months in my home, working and homeschooling my kids, only leaving for emergencies or outdoor activities. I have an autoimmune disease that may or may not (the science isn’t clear yet) put me at increased risk of dangerous complications from the virus. I had counted down the days until my first vaccine—the seeming beginning of the end—and it was finally my turn.

My doctor’s office waiting room had been rearranged to create socially distanced seating areas, a makeshift vaccine clinic. We all had our own little bubbles to wait out the 15 or 30 minutes of observation after receiving the shot. After I checked in, I sat down at my assigned seat and glanced out the window, the sun was streaming in so brightly I couldn’t see outside so I turned my attention to the casual banter of those around me. Everyone was relaxed, maybe even bored. The man across the way spoke to someone on the phone about how after this “quick stop” he had a day of errands planned. Certainly no one else seemed on edge, making my nerves feel out of place.

I attributed a great portion of my feelings to the bad reaction I had to the flu vaccine a few months prior. My whole arm swelled up, got very hot to the touch, and I was sick for a few days. This experience made me a little worried about possible side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, but it didn’t alter my position on vaccines in general. Science has proven they are safe and effective and if the science is too complicated (or you’re generally skeptical), history tells the simple and hopeful truth of vaccines’ ability to save lives.

Luckily, I didn’t have to stew in my nervousness for long. Within two minutes a nurse had walked over, gently smiled as she swabbed my arm, and gave me my shot. It was absolutely painless. I’m generally quite sensitive to shots so I was surprised and relieved. Then I just had to wait—30 minutes for me due to my reaction to the flu shot.

With the vaccine over with, I was able to breathe a little easier and let my mind wander. I couldn’t help but think of the almost three million, about 575,000 in the U.S. alone, who didn’t live to reach this moment for themselves. I thought of them, of their families and loved ones, of the global population of survivors facing long-term or permanent health issues. And yes, I thought of those who will scoff as they read this, call me a sheep, or maybe feel sorry that I had been duped by big pharma.

But to me, vaccines represent the very best of humanity. They apply our greatest survival tool, our intelligence, with our most generous emotions, the desire to limit death and suffering for all people. They also acknowledge our reliance on one another and inspire our noblest sense of community spirit. And yet there is a great cultural rift right now surrounding vaccinations. Maybe it’s the fact that the specialized knowledge required to fully understand the process is too complex for any but those most highly trained. Has our capitalistic society contaminated faith in our beneficial institutions, causing people to see greed instead of altruism? My thoughts quickly took me beyond my depths, asking questions that were outside the limits of my understanding.

My mental roadblock aligned with the new arrival of a man and his wheelchair-bound mother being seated behind me. They were in high spirits, joking with the nurses. “I’m going to put this sticker on my truck,” the gentleman chuckled as the nurse went around handing us all “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!” stickers. I smiled and relaxed a little bit more.

I was only one person of many getting my vaccine at that moment. Upon reflection, I realized I was part of a movement, a community, a global response. We have all seen humanity rise to the challenge before in our history books. The images I conjured of TB and polio vaccine clinics, black and white photos of crowded school gyms and auditoriums with long lines of eager patients, mirrored more recent news articles about polio eradication efforts, ebola outbreaks, and the COVID response. Shared sacrifice and coordinated effort have carried us through before, often with a sense of patriotic pride. Our past successes comforted me and it felt good to be part of the solution to our current crisis.

“Good job everybody! We’re all in this together!” the man behind me loudly proclaimed, making me jump. I sat frozen, caught off-guard that his statement so closely echoed my own thoughts, while others in the room whooped and clapped. I was grateful to be back in the moment, in the waiting room together with my community.

Eventually, my timer went off and I was allowed to leave. I walked back out into the sunshine and drove home. Over the next few days, I dealt with minor aches and pains and some significant fatigue caused by my immune system kicking in and responding to the vaccine. I have several weeks to go before I’m fully vaccinated. There may be many more weeks before the virus retreats to a manageable level within our community. But experts widely agree that vaccines are the quickest, safest way to herd immunity.

After my vaccination experience, and spending the last year interviewing and writing about COVID-19 in our area, I am comforted, and made hopeful, by the sense of community spirit I’ve seen. I’ve come to realize that we are truly in this together and, with almost 40,000 people (and counting) in Grand Traverse County alone having at least the first dose of a vaccine, I think together is our best way forward.