- Dr. Joy Henningsen is a diagnostic radiologist at the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
- She received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on December 17 and the second dose on January 7 at the Birmingham VA Medical Center.
- Although she experienced no side effects following the first shot, about six hours after the second dose Henningsen says she began to feel muscle aches and injection site soreness.
- She woke up during the night at the 12-hour mark with a fever and chills, and in the morning had a dull headache that persisted throughout the day. By 48 hours after the shot, however, Henningsen says she “felt essentially back to normal.”
- Henningsen says although these temporary side effects are uncomfortable, they won’t happen to everyone and shouldn’t be a deterrent to receiving the vaccine.
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I was extremely fortunate to receive the initial dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 17, the first week it was offered in the United States outside of a clinical trial. My hospital received doses in the first national shipment and every healthcare worker at my hospital who expressed interest via survey received the vaccine, including me.
I barely felt the first shot, aside from very subtle arm soreness a day or so later.
I also signed up to log my symptoms on the CDC’s V-Safe online symptom tracker tool. My reporting was wholly uneventful; thankfully, as expected, I had no symptoms that impacted my life or activities in any way.
Before I knew how my body would react to the second dose, I prepared myself for the possibility of feeling lousy for a day or two afterward.
If it were an option, I would have scheduled the day off work after the second vaccination to be safe. For me that wasn’t possible, so I scheduled a grocery delivery before my shot and purchased the same items I’d buy if I had a cold or the flu (water, soup, crackers, etc.) I also made sure my pets were stocked up with plenty of food and water.
In addition to comfort food and hydrating liquids, I cobbled together a “vaccine valise” of other supplies to have on hand.
This included an under-tongue thermometer to monitor my temperature and over-the-counter fever reducers. For the whiplash back and forth between fever and chills that some people have reported, I set out washcloths to be used as cold compresses. I also put a weighted blanket and a down comforter near my bed.
I received my vaccine in the afternoon on January 7. Here’s my hour by hour reaction.
3 p.m. (Hour zero): Received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, no immediate reaction.
9 p.m. (6-hour mark): I felt fine until the six-hour mark, when I began to feel a sense of malaise (the medical word for that vague feeling when you know something isn’t quite right at the beginning of feeling sick). Mild muscle aches soon followed, as well as injection site soreness that felt similar to how a tetanus shot feels – that is, a little worse than a flu shot.
January 8 – day one after the shot
3 a.m. (12-hour mark): I woke up with a 102-degree fever and chills, general insomnia.
5 a.m. (14-hour mark): There was some improvement to the fever and chills, but when I woke up the muscle aches persisted, and I had a dull headache similar to what I’d feel if I skipped my daily coffee.
11 a.m. (20-hour mark): I still had a dull headache, and my fever and chills returned and persisted throughout the day, along with exhaustion and an overall “blah” feeling.
11 p.m. (32-hour mark): I was still experiencing a headache, fever, and chills when I went to bed at 11 p.m.
January 9 – day two after the shot
I woke up sweaty, likely from chills and minor night sweats. I got on the scale and saw I’d lost four pounds since I weighed myself the morning of the shot on January 7. Some of that was from being dehydrated; the rest may have been secondary to my body battling what it thought was COVID-19.
3 p.m. (48-hour mark): I felt essentially back to normal.
January 10 – day three after the shot
I felt so much better (almost normal) all day yesterday. I worked out in the morning, and most of the weight came right back when I upped my water intake.
Overall, of my symptoms were mild and a very small price to pay for protection against COVID-19. I believe temporary discomfort should not be a deterrent to receiving the vaccine, and I know these symptoms are a sign of a robust immune system and that my body is priming itself to fight COVID-19 – exactly what it is supposed to do.
It’s important we’re prepared for the possibility of these side effects.
The Pfizer vaccine was vetted by the US Food and Drug Administration which determined that it was safe to be given to people over 16. Millions of Americans need to be prepared for the authorized COVID-19 vaccines’ potential side effects such as fatigue, headache, muscle pains, fever, and chills that are more common with the second dose. For the majority of recipients, these potential effects may be an uncomfortable, but not threatening, part of this vaccine.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s latest projections, we need approximately 90% of Americans to be immunized to achieve herd immunity in order to resume normal life. I believe it’s our civic responsibility to be vaccinated according to the recommended dose regimen to end the pandemic. We all benefit.
It’s smart to prepare yourself for the possibility that dose two of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines may be slightly more challenging. Still, having seen the destruction SARS-CoV-2 can wreak upon the body, I can tell you I’d rather have a night of feeling lousy on the couch watching Netflix any day over serious COVID-19.
An earlier version of this article was published on Business Insider January 8, 2020.