My COVID Vaccine Experience, Part 1

After quarantining for 9 months, I was excited when immunocompromised people were scheduled to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in my state. As a lupus patient on immunosuppressants, I would be a high-risk patient if I contracted COVID.

Quarantine

I strictly quarantined and spent the better part of a year living life through my computer screen instead of in-person. As a teacher, I was responsible for trying to reach students who had become increasingly lonely and depressed after not being able to play with their friends or see their classmates. It was difficult to be cheerful for my students when I was feeling lonely myself. I hadn’t hugged any family members in months. Weekly coffee dates with friends had come to a sudden stop. I picked up my groceries curbside and shopped online without speaking to another person. I couldn’t even get a haircut; once a pixie cut, my hair now fell past my shoulders in a tangle of split ends.

COVID vaccine and lupus

I had originally planned to wait to get the vaccine. I wanted to make sure COVID vaccines were tested thoroughly and not rushed through development before I signed up for one. I wanted to know for certain that what I was putting into my body was safe. However, after reading the CDC website and learning about the rigorous approval process for the vaccine, I decided to register as soon as possible. But I would soon discover that the registration process was not as easy as I had thought it would be.

The first thing I did once I learned I was eligible was call my General Practitioner.

“We don’t have any information on that,” the nurse told me. Then she read aloud the list of conditions a person must have to be in the first vaccine group. Although I am severely immunocompromised, lupus was not listed specifically. “Wait, are you even eligible?” she asked.

The nurse’s words hurt. She clearly hadn’t read the entire page of guidelines or looked at my medical file. As a lupus patient, I’ve often dealt with doctors or nurses who didn’t take my disease seriously when I most needed help. The nurse’s reaction triggered memories of the many times I’ve faced doctors of nurses who minimized my pain. Since my GP wasn’t able to help me, I did what any Millennial would in times of need: I opened my laptop.

Searching for a vaccine appointment

I Googled the vaccine and my zip code. My county officials had created a page on the county website listing vaccine providers as well as a log of the number of doses delivered to each. But I soon found that most links crashed due to web traffic as soon as I clicked on them. The entire county seemed to be scrambling for doses of the vaccine. All the pharmacies I called had booked all their spots or claimed to have never received any shipments of the vaccine. I tried calling various local hospitals, but most would only administer the vaccine if I had seen a doctor affiliated with their hospital in the past year. I signed up for every waiting list I came across. In the month of January, I spent around 10 hours trying to register for the COVID vaccine with no success.

My first COVID vaccine dose

By February, I had given up on obtaining a vaccine. Every time a seemingly healthy friend posted a picture of their vaccine card, I felt a pang of envy. Then one day during the last week of February, I received a text on my phone from a waiting list I’d long since given up on. I followed the link and scheduled my first dose for the next day.

As I walked into the hospital to receive my first dose, the familiar nervousness of being in public places during a pandemic enveloped me. “It won’t be like this for much longer,” I reminded myself.

I hardly felt a tiny pinch as the needle slipped into my arm. I have difficult veins, and blood tests often require the phlebotomist or nurse to stick me several times. I was surprised that the first dose of the vaccine was so painless. My upper arm would be sore at the injection site for 3 days, but I had no other adverse symptoms.

After I received my first dose, I sat in a waiting room monitored by a nurse for 10 minutes. I tucked the vaccine card with the scheduled date of my second dose into my wallet. As I walked out of the hospital and to my car, my whole body seemed lighter. I felt hopeful about the coming year for the first time since last March.

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