A month into 2021, COVID-19 vaccines are reaching more and more people despite a distribution effort that’s still largely chaotic and disjointed. State and local governments nationwide are taking a phased approach to getting shots into arms, starting with first responders like doctors and nurses, the elderly and essential workers. Which means that the vast majority of people have yet to be vaccinated, and likely won’t be until the second half of the year or beyond.

Yet, despite the waiting most folks will do this year for the vaccine, there’s still incredible demand for information about what to expect when it’s their turn: Does it hurt? How long does it take? How big is the needle?

To answer these questions and more, we sat down with one of our recently vaccinated doctors, Dr. Janushe Patel from our San Francisco clinic, to find out more about her experience.

So, first question: Which vaccine did you get? 
I got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

Right now there are a couple different vaccines available. Were you given a choice?
Yes, I had a choice between Pfizer and Moderna. The reason why I went with Pfizer was because, with Pfizer, you take the second of your two shots 21 days later, versus the Moderna vaccine which is 28 days apart. There’s not really that big of an actual difference between the two vaccines, I just kind of wanted to get it over with.  

What did the vaccine look like? Did it emerge from a container in a cloud of dry ice vapor? Does it glow blue like in the movies?
It looked exactly like a flu shot, actually. It’s about an inch long needle, but no, there’s no special magneto-lock container it comes in, it isn’t administered by a guy in a hazmat suit and it doesn’t glow in the dark or anything.

Walk us through your experience actually getting the vaccine.
San Francisco sent all their vaccine supplies to UCSF. When I arrived at the hospital, I showed my credentials and was quickly registered by nursing staff. Before administering the vaccine, the nurses went through a questionnaire containing a series of questions to make sure there were screening for contraindications and precautions. Questions like: “Have you ever had a severe allergic reaction to a prior dose of COVID-19 or something similar to COVID-19?” They also asked if we were allergic to any of the ingredients, ingredients like polyethylene glycol, or to any type of polysorbate. And, of course, they made sure we were old enough to receive the vaccine, because there are minimum age requirements

When I was done with the questionnaire, I signed a waiver and was put in a room with a nurse. She asked which arm was my dominant arm, and then went for the non-dominant arm, intramuscularly and right in the deltoid muscle, which is the upper arm — just like the flu shot. The shot itself took them less than a second to actually administer— short and sweet. 

That was basically it. After that was done, they had me wait for 15 minutes in a waiting area to observe if there were any adverse reactions, and then I was released. 

How did you feel the day of? The days after? Any side effects/symptoms to speak of?
The location where the shot is administered is a little sore right afterwards. But later in the day, you start to feel a little bit more sore, and then the day after, it feels like a charley horse in that arm — a sort of a soreness where it’s hard to lift your arm above a 90-degree angle. It really hurt, worse than a flu shot and about as bad as a tetanus shot. That lasts about 12 to 14 more hours when you wake up. 

And then there’s the fatigue, and nausea.

Oh yeah? Did you experience that, too?
Yeah, I definitely felt fatigued. I got the shot at 5 p.m., and was asleep by 7 p.m. that night. And the whole next day I felt nauseous. I just felt like I had no appetite. 

Did you go to work, then? 
I did. I took some Tylenol which helped the pain, then went into the clinic. We have lots of patients to treat! 

That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Anything that people should know or understand about getting the vaccine that they might not be aware of?
I think the main thing that people are always surprised about is the fact that, even though the vaccine will help prevent recipients from getting COVID, it’s not a clean, simple experience — there are side effects. I think that’s something that people really need to know is that you won’t feel great after the vaccine — but  that’s normal. The side effects are short and completely worth being safe from this virus.

So now that you’ve been through it, any tips? 
Definitely. I have four good tips: 

  1. Hydrate in advance. Drink at least two-and-a-half liters of water before the vaccine, just to try to hydrate. 
  2. Take vitamins to boost your immune system. Vitamin C and vitamin D help, as do electrolyte packets. 
  3. Don’t drink alcohol that day. Limit risk of dehydration.  
  4. Consider what time you get the shot. Expect to be drowsy a few hours after you take it. Take some time to rest and recover. If you take it in the morning, consider taking a sick day so you have the ability to do just that. 

Although  the side effects of the vaccine can come as a bit of a surprise, they’re milder, less dangerous and way shorter-lasting than the ones you get with COVID, so it’s worth it!


No long waits. No surprise bills. No copays — ever.

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