Dr. Robin’s Covid-19 Updates

Vaccine Stories

After A Year of Fear, Relief is Just a Shot Away

Used with permission of the photographer Dr. Anitha Leonard

Almost every time I talk to somebody I hear about another friend/family member/neighbor who has Covid. It can feel so scary — like the noose is tightening.

But — the miracle of the vaccines is upon us.

So now almost every time I talk to one of my health care worker friends, I hear about another person who has gotten the vaccine. It’s just fantastic, an instant sigh of relief.

Tearing Up In The Vaccine Room

One of my buddies who got her vaccine last week said when she got her injection she felt such a giant waft of reassurance and relief and hope and faith it was like a religious experience.

I hear this a lot. Many of my friends talk about getting tears in their eyes, or lumps in their throats, or goosebumps, the moment the shot goes in.

These teary docs are our hard-working surgeons, steely-eyed docs, buck-stops-here super-specialists, all running through their days, carefully allotting an extra half an hour for their vaccine between patients, and then all of a sudden they are overcome with relief and gratitude for this miracle.

Almost a year of fear leading up to a shot full of salvation.

I remember an older physician telling me about working with a resident one evening early on in the pandemic. They were examining a Covid patient when she noticed the young doctor’s hands were shaking. Shaking with fear.

Just think: she and he and all these docs and nurses (and janitors and ward clerks and respiratory therapists and physical therapists and etc etc etc) have lived with that fear all these months, and gone to work anyways, and then gone home. And been afraid there, of what they might have brought to their families.

All those months of fear. No wonder they get such lumps in their throats when this ray of hope goes beaming into their arms.

No New Safety Concerns

A lot (not enough but a lot) of people have been vaccinated (>230,000 shots in Massachusetts, 10,000,000 people in the US) with no new bad side effects showing up.

Their safety profile has been reassuring from the start. The vaccines have been tested for safety all along, from the very start, and has has been excellent in all the trials. It’s likewise reassuring that vaccine side effects almost always happen shortly after the injection; you almost never see bad things after a week or two — and we haven’t.

But a famous virologist who invented several vaccines once said “I never sleep well until after the first 3 million doses.” In other words, it takes a little while to be completely reassured a vaccine is safe.

So now we’re at 10 million doses. And they continue to look safe.

There’s been a small number of episodes of “anaphylaxis” — a severe allergic reaction. Although there’s been about 10 gazillion newspaper headlines about this, it’s actually pretty rare.

“Anaphylaxis” seems to happen about to 7–11 people per million shots. For reference, the chance of being hit in your house by a crashing airplane is about 4 in a million.

So your chances of having a severe allergic reaction is roughly twice as high as having a plane crash into your house and hit you.

I’m not losing any sleep over either of these things.

I am also not worried that these vaccines were “rushed.”

Their development and manufacturing were “accelerated” — the government cut some red tape, the gaps between trials were minimized, manufacturing started before the vaccines were approved — but corners weren’t cut. It’s the same requirements, paperwork, process, safety checks.

I am also not worried that I need to “wait to see if anything happens.” Wait for what?

  • Multiple months of safety data? Done.
  • Ten million doses? Done.
  • Exhaustive review of all the scientific data by independent groups? Done.
  • Continuing constant review and reporting about the 10 million shots already given? Done.

What is there to wait for?

I know, we all carry our own stories into the vaccination room. What about MY body? What about MY medical issues, my allergies, history, medicines, that time I fainted after a shot?

So I’ve spent the last few weeks watching my colleagues walk into the vaccination room with their stories.

I think of my colleague who is breast feeding and has multiple allergies and eczema. She got the shot and did fine.

I watched docs with autoimmune diseases (psoriatic arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s, MS), the docs who had Guillain Barre or Bell’s palsy in the past — they read the literature, they talked to their docs, they looked at the odds of getting Covid, and they walked into the vaccination room. And they’ve done fantastically. As one of them said, “All I felt was relief.”

I think of my friend who has inflammatory bowel disease and is on immunosuppressants. She got the shot: sore arm but fine.

I watched my colleagues who are pregnant and nursing, or pregnant with twins, or doing IVF this month: they talked to their docs, they got their shots and all are fine.

I think of my acquaintance who is allergic to practically everything and has anaphylaxis with multiple antibiotics. He got the shot: fine.

I watched my distant colleague who has just recently finished really aggressive chemo and radiation for her breast cancer. She got the shot: fatigued and feverish for a day, now fine.

I think of my friend who has incredibly tough complications from cancer treatment as a four month old (!!!). She told me she also has “impressive survivor anxiety …sometimes a major hypochondriac.” But she also said “COVID has limited my life in so many ways that even in my worst catastrophizing moments I was willing to accept a minuscule risk of anything bad in exchange for the overwhelming evidence-based hope of greater freedom from worry after vaccine.”

She got the shot and although she had a day of fever and misery, she actually felt thrilled at these signs her immune system was reacting perfectly (and she bounded up out of bed the next morning just fine).

I think of the second-trimester pregnant pediatrician who kept vacillating and talking to her Ob about the vaccine, and then on the day of her appointment had to swab nine kids for Covid! She went to the vaccination room as fast as she could; she’s fine, and so is her baby per their ultrasound.

I think of the high-risk ER doc who did endless math calculations about her risk of getting Covid per week, her risk of getting bad Covid per month, her risk of getting long-haul Covid. She did the math over and over, and then she finally got the shot: fine.

And then I think of my acquaintance who wrote me: “My initial reaction was to let others get the vaccine and see what happens. When the moment came and I had to decide — I stepped back. I realized my initial reaction was emotional. It was nine-plus months of listening and seeing science be assaulted. The constant influx of misinformation, even though I knew it was false, had clouded my mind. When I stepped back, and listened to trustworthy sources, I got my vaccine without hesitation.”

And she’s done fine.

Me, Too.

All of the Covid deaths are a story, and all the Covid shots are a story as well. And I’m carrying all these stories with me into my own vaccination room when it happens. I’ll be the one with tears in my eyes.

{Robin Schoenthaler, MD is a Boston-based cancer doctor who has been writing straightforward fact-based no-blame-no-rumors-all-science-all-the-time essays about Covid-19 since March 2020.}

Covid-Translator. Cancer doc: ~Three decades at MGH. Writer and storyteller: Moth Grand Slam Champion. Mom. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome, robinshome2@gmail.com

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