Outside has been “locked” since March 10, 2020 when Jamaica recorded its first case of SARS-CoV-2, or CoVid-19. Dozens of deadly diseases have been eradicated due to vaccines, and now it seems this coronavirus could suffer a similar fate! Astute scientists around the world have come up with vaccines which can either prevent us from getting the virus, or decrease the severity of illness should we get it. However, the conspiracy theorists, doctors with degrees from social media university and a few fear-mongering headlines have driven fear into a population which is already overwhelmed and inundated with news regarding this pandemic. Three cases of blood clots in Europe and every side effect or allergic reaction to these vaccines have made news with little additional information provided for comparison and clarity, placing more skepticism and worry in people’s minds.
I too was apprehensive about taking the vaccine but common sense and research prevailed since the benefits far outweighed any potential risks. Jamaica got 50,000 doses of the Oxford/Astra Zeneca CoVid-19 vaccine on March 8, donated by the government of India. We are set to receive more in short order as the government aims to vaccinate at least two-thirds of the population. Due to the short supply, the vaccine is being given to the at-risk groups first– that is, frontline workers including HCWs, police officers, etc. who by the nature of their jobs are at higher risk of coming into contact with positive persons, as well as the elderly who are most susceptible to getting seriously ill or dying from the virus. The dissemination of information so far hasn’t been the best in terms of how interested members of the public can sign up, and even among us as HCWs, but the information eventually got around. Thus, I went ahead with taking my vaccine in the second week after it arrived on Jamaican shores. Here’s my experience.
I got my first jab on Wednesday March 17 at 2:59pm at a public hospital designated as a vaccination facility. My appointment time was actually at 10am but I didn’t get any free time from my duties until 2:00pm. When I arrived at about 2:35pm, the nurse double-checked that I was slated for that day even though I was late, then I had to wash my hands at a portable wash station. Apparently, walk-ins are welcome at most centres after 3pm anyway so once you belong to the group being targeted for the vaccine, you can obtain yours even without an appointment.
Step 1: Registration
I spoke to a community health aide who collected demographic data and filled out my vaccination card.
Step 2: Medical History & Vital Checks
Afterwards, I was directed to a nurse who then asked me about my medical history, inquired about any allergies and did my vitals (blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation and temperature). Clearly I had been fretting about the vaccine because that was the highest blood pressure I have ever recorded in my life, and I think several of my colleagues have had the same plight at these vaccination stations. Anyway, it wasn’t high enough to be a contraindication to getting my jab so I moved on to step 3.
Step 3: Counselling Station
Here, a health education officer explained all the possible side effects of the vaccine such as fatigue, pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, muscle aches, headache and a low grade fever. These are the side effects of many vaccines and occur as your body mounts an immune response to the inoculated modified virus particle. The possible allergic reactions were also explained, and we were told that if we exhibit any of these dangerous effects such as chest tightness, difficulty breathing etc. we should not take the second dose. It was also explained that we would be monitored by doctors and nurses for 15 minutes after the vaccine to check for these side effects.
Step 5: The Jab
I hate that we call it a jab because the needle is so small! The one used is a 23 gauge needle, 25 millimetres in diameter, and smaller than the needle used to take blood. Anyway, this step was the quickest. My name was called. I entered the room. The nurse administering the vaccine identified herself, and there was a little camaraderie since I already knew her and the other nurses in the room. She asked me to expose my non-dominant arm, which in my case was my left arm, and cleaned over my deltoid muscle area with alcohol– the site of vaccine administration. She opened the igloo, took out the vial, pulled up 0.5cc of vaccine, replaced the vial into its icebox then gave me a gentle stick. It felt like a slight pinch or a mosquito bite. Afterwards she placed cotton over the site, asked me to press down, then that was that.
Step 4: Observation
I was under the watchful scrutiny of my colleagues the entire 15 minutes. At the end, they inspected the injection site. Only the most astute could recognize the tiny needle mark. There was no redness, bruising or swelling. Once cleared, my card was returned to me which documents the date and time of my first dose, the model and manufacturer, as well as the date for my next shot.
I was already sore before getting the vaccine as I recently resumed working out, so I was achy and tired by bed time, but not in an excessive way. When I woke up Thursday morning, my left arm was VERY sore. I couldn’t raise my left arm because of how painful it was, and I just felt a bit under the weather like I wanted to crawl back under the covers and sleep some more. It is advised that one takes Panadol prior to or immediately after getting the vaccine to prevent side effects but I’m stubborn. However, I had work and didn’t want to endure that pain while seeing patients so I popped 2 Restriva tablets and an aspirin since I had no Panadol home. This decreased the pain to a tolerable level. In fact, I felt fine until later that evening when the soreness returned and I took 2 more Restriva tablets. Note: Restriva is only available by prescription in Jamaica, but I’m sure over the counter paracetamol (a.k.a Panadol, Cetamol, Tylenol) would’ve done the job just as well. I didn’t experience any fever, headaches or other symptoms. By Friday, I felt like my usual self.
I eagerly await my booster shot in May to improve the vaccine’s effectiveness. Ideally, the Astra Zeneca vaccine may not have been my first pick for coronavirus vaccines since it does not prevent the virus that well, but merely diminishes one’s chances of getting seriously ill with the virus and needing hospitalization. However, this vaccine is the easiest to store and we already had the facilities that would make storing and transporting this vaccine a possibility. In fact, the Astra Zeneca vaccine is the most readily available coronavirus vaccine worldwide for this reason– it can be stored at regular refrigerator temperatures of 4°C.
Readers, I encourage you to get the vaccine when your time comes. It’s a little strange that the CoVid vaccine is being met by such resistance in a country with an exemplary FREE mandatory vaccination programme for the last few decades. Over 90% of all school age children in Jamaica are vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type B, tetanus, diphtheria, polio and miliary tuberculosis! Anyway, the choice is up to each person to decide. Don’t just jump on the social media bandwagon of ignorance and tomfoolery. Read reputable sources online, ask your friends who may have already taken the vaccine what their experience was like, and feel free to speak to your doctor for advice. You can even ask me for free medical advice re the vaccine in the comments! I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge.
Take care, and stay safe!
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‘Til next time!