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FARE Blog March 15, 2021

Under the Weather, Over the Moon: My Normal Experience With COVID-19 Vaccine Dose #2

My immune response to the second COVID-19 shot – arm pain, a fever and flu-like symptoms – has brought me greater peace of mind.

Guest post by Melissa Engel

Melissa Engel portrait

Melissa Engel, MA, is a Clinical Psychology PhD student at Emory University and also serves as FARE’s Lead Program Developer of Teen Outreach. She has severe food allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish, as well as asthma, type 1 diabetes, and an autoimmune disease. Follow Melissa on Twitter, Instagram, and her new Psychology Today blog, “Too Young to Be Sick.”  

Melissa wrote about her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine last month on the FARE Blog.

“I just want to be normal,” is a common wish I hear in my work with young people with food allergies, as well as something I have often felt as an individual with several medical conditions. Thus, I am happy to report that my reaction to my second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was just that – normal!  

With food allergies, my immune system makes mistakes. For instance, my immune system may treat a benign slice of pizza or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a threat, launching an allergic reaction and potentially escalating to anaphylaxis. With the COVID-19 vaccine, however, my immune system responded appropriately. I experienced arm pain, a fever and flu-like symptoms – precisely the side effects that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deem common – in the 72 hours following my second dose. Yes, I felt rather sick, but I had zero signs of an allergic reaction. I experienced a typical immune response to the vaccine, with my symptoms merely indicating that the vaccine was working, that my protection against COVID-19 was kicking in

While each allergic reaction has been completely unexpected, my vaccine response was exactly as expected. The hospital where I work encouraged employees to take the day off following their vaccination, so I spent the day laying on the couch.

While each allergic reaction has been extremely scary, my vaccine response was more of a nuisance. My symptoms were definitely not fun, but they did not provoke the slightest sense of danger.

While each allergic reaction has been beyond frustrating, my vaccine response has been gratifying. Rather than disrupting my life, my symptoms brought me greater peace of mind. 

It has been several weeks since my second dose, which is 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and even more effective at stopping severe disease. For the most part, my behaviors have not changed. I only meet people outside, masked and socially distanced, and I continue to avoid stores and restaurants.

At the same time, my COVID-related anxiety has significantly decreased. My heart rate does not skyrocket when my hospital patients get too close for COVID comfort. I recently enjoyed a long walk in an urban park that would have previously been too crowded for my liking. As more of the population becomes vaccinated and the weather warms up, I look forward to the possibility of increased outdoor gatherings and perhaps flying home to see my family. 

While I wait for life to return to “normal,” I am grateful that my response to the vaccine was just that.
 

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