Like most healthcare workers, I was delighted when I was eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. I had been involved in COVID-19 patient care since the pandemic began in the US and had seen what this virus can do to people. We all felt incredibly helpless against this incredibly contagious bug.
Over time, experience, and study, we've learned which treatments help and which don't. More importantly, we now have vaccines.
The Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines, which were tested in approximately 18,600 and 15,000 participants, respectively, were the first to become available in the United States through emergency FDA approval. You stay the most effective. Studies have shown approximately 95% effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection after two doses.
More importantly, no one – not a participant – who got COVID-19 after receiving any of these vaccines died or even got sick enough to be hospitalized. And the number of vaccinated participants who received COVID-19 was very small: only 11 in the Moderna study (compared to 185 who received placebo) and nine in the Pfizer study (compared to 169 who received placebo ). These numbers are real cause for hope!
What it felt like to receive my COVID-19 vaccine – and what happened next
So I went to our hospital worker vaccination clinic on January 3rd and almost cried with joy when I got my streak of the Moderna vaccine. Yes, I felt happy the next day: headache, body ache, tiredness. These mild, flulike symptoms are common after many immunizations, especially after these COVID-19 vaccines. I worked from home and took Tylenol and I was fine within a few hours.
There is nothing like a real test to bring home the need for vaccines. My husband was at work while I was getting my first dose. We later learned that he was at high risk for COVID-19 that same day (ironically, he doesn't work in healthcare, but in professional sports). We immediately went into strict quarantine.
Unfortunately, seven days after his exposure, he developed a fever, chills, fatigue, congestion and cough. Two tests confirmed the full COVID-19.
Of course, my husband wore a mask and we tried to be socially distant. But with two kids in a remote school trying to keep up with virtual clinical work and with no chance of anyone helping us, he inevitably got drawn into the daily routine of the household. And seven days after his symptoms started, our ten year old son had a fever, chills, fatigue, congestion and cough. He was also COVID positive. And he has asthma.
Worsened asthma, cough, and exposure to the virus
Actually, both my husband and our son have asthma, but my son's asthma was particularly exacerbated. He coughed and coughed. I sometimes gave his breathing treatments in the middle of the night and admittedly not always while wearing a mask. I couldn't have had more continuous exposure to this high risk virus, far more risky than when I was working on the COVID ward in April.
But throughout the month I lived with highly symptomatic COVID-infected relatives, I was regularly screened by my hospital's occupational medicine department, as well as a clinical study examining the effectiveness of vaccines on healthcare workers. I tested negative four times.
One dose, three solid weeks of high risk, no infection.
There's one more mystery: our nine-year-old daughter was never infected. She was tested three times this month, all negative. We don't believe she had an asymptomatic infection before because if she did we would all have been infected for sure. We were more careful than many families about my job – we would never accidentally infect anyone. "I am immune!" She takes great pride in sharing something with everyone who listens. And we think that somehow it is.
Recovery and a second dose
Fortunately, my husband and son have recovered well. I got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine on January 31st and I'll say the day after that was a sucker: mild fever, fatigue, headache, body ache, arm pain. I was working from home again, but this time I gave in a nice hefty dose of Aleve. All of these symptoms cleared up and I was back to normal the next day. And this week I tested negative for the fifth time.
I know some people are hesitant about the vaccine; Some people hesitate to get vaccines. Others have read the media reports about the very, very few and rare allergic reactions. It is true that someone who has had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine in the past should not have it. Otherwise, eligible adults may feel safe rolling up their sleeves. After all, many people died of COVID-19.
My conclusions about vaccination
Both the data and my own experience with this vaccine are incredibly positive and comforting. I am confident that we can get to a new normal. We may still wear masks and social distancing. Remember, people who have been vaccinated can still be infected. This is just less likely and they won't get very sick. We don't yet know whether vaccinated people might get an asymptomatic infection that they could spread, or what role viral variants play.
We can still see cases of COVID-19 in people who have not yet received the vaccine and in people who refuse it. But for the most part, when most people are vaccinated, I predict a resurgence from dining and travel, weddings and family dinners. And I can't wait!
Follow me on Twitter @drmoniquetello
For more information on COVID-19 vaccines, visit the . Health Coronavirus Resource Center vaccines page.