The author of this article, Daniel O’Leary, is an immunocompromised sophomore studying biological sciences at the University.
I have never been a fan of shots. Going to the doctor as a kid always prompted the question in my mind: will I have to get a shot today? Little did I know how frequently I would have to face needles in the future and how important vaccines would become to me.
Fast forward to high school, I dealt with some serious health issues. I proceeded with a variety of lab tests, many involving needles. One time, I felt dizzy and lightheaded, and eventually passed out. I would have to get used to being poked with needles frequently, as my life was going to change forever shortly. Soon enough, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
Dealing with this was challenging, physically and mentally. Moreover, figuring out a treatment plan was overwhelming. My doctor suggested various medications, all involving needles. These medications sounded like a nightmare. But, we decided subcutaneous pen injections were the best option for me.
My mom gave me the injections initially; I couldn’t push the button or even look. Eventually, I became involved in the process. I am now able to inject myself without thinking about it. While doing this every other week is not ideal, I have accepted it as part of my journey. Just looking at where I am today with this makes me realize how resilient I am.
Even though this medication has its benefits to managing my condition, it introduced a new factor into my life that I was not prepared for. Because I live with an autoimmune disease, I have an over-reactive immune response. The medication I am on decreases my immune response. Therefore, I am immunocompromised, at higher risk for serious infections.
I frequently got sick growing up, and I hated it. Now, my body was going to be more susceptible to infections, which was scary for me. In the fall of 2019, I started to have anxiety over getting sick. There was a point where I felt like my body was a host for disease and there was nothing I could do.
I recall a class in my freshman year during which the people sitting around me were coughing continuously. It felt like the world was one giant illness and I was stuck in the middle. Overwhelmed, I felt the urge to get up and leave. I was doing everything possible to not get sick, but that didn’t seem to be enough.
Then, the pandemic occurred. Being high-risk because of my health condition and immunosuppression was terrifying, especially at a young age. There were many unknowns to COVID-19, so I wanted to do everything possible to prevent getting sick. I have been very diligent with staying home, mask-wearing, social distancing and hand washing.
As the country opened up, I was forced to leave the house more. I attended an in-person class once a week this semester. I was nervous about this, especially after doing a year of school online. I wanted to continue to live my life safely and successfully, but the idea of the virus taking that away was scary.
When vaccines were granted emergency authorization, I was relieved. While vaccine development usually occurs over many years, scientists developed these immunizations in record time. A large amount of money was poured into developing a safe COVID-19 vaccine.
The mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations has been in development for some time as scientists have been preparing for an outbreak of an infectious pathogen like the coronavirus. This pandemic was the gasoline for the development of a vaccine like this.
Vaccine trials conducted the various phases of study simultaneously to quicken the process. After tens of thousands had received the vaccines, scientists determined they were effective and safe and authorized them for emergency use.
While I was amazed, I trusted the scientists who used their expertise to develop these vaccines. After doing research myself, I knew I could trust the vaccine. When my physician said I could take it, I wanted to do so as soon as I could. The thought of having protection against this virus gave me hope.
The COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use do not contain the coronavirus itself. Rather, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA), which gives your cells instructions on how to make a harmless protein.
This spike protein is found on the surface of the virus. When you become vaccinated, your cells assemble the pieces of this protein and display them on their surface. When your immune system recognizes that this protein is foreign, it initiates a response to form antibodies, which protect you against the actual virus.
While there is a chance of becoming infected with COVID-19 after vaccination, this chance is quite low. No vaccine is 100% effective, but getting no vaccine is 0% effective.
As there are multiple vaccines in circulation, people question which is the best. All vaccines have shown great effectiveness in preventing severe COVID-19 infection, as well as preventing hospitalization and death. They will not give you COVID-19, nor will they alter your DNA. The best vaccine is the one you can get into your arm first. By getting vaccinated now, you will be given the protection sooner, while also protecting others and minimizing viral spread.
I received the COVID-19 vaccine at a local hospital. I could barely feel the injections. After the first dose, I did not have side effects. After the second dose, I did have mild body aches for 24 hours. These side effects were nothing worse than what I have experienced before with my health.
While these effects may seem unpleasant, they are a good sign that your body is in the process of generating an immune response. When I experienced these body aches, I drew comfort knowing my immune system was responding to the vaccine. It was like I could tell my body was producing antibodies, despite them being invisible to the naked eye.
The potential risks from the vaccines are much smaller than the harm that can come from COVID-19 infection. All medications and vaccines have side effects. There are always risks we take, yet the benefits outweigh those. Being protected was worth any risk that came with the vaccine.
This vaccine gives me and others with chronic health conditions a better chance at fighting off the virus. I realize some people may not be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine for different health reasons. By getting the vaccine, I did my part to protect them. The vaccine protects me and my communities. Vaccination is a sign of respect for those in your community.
I am thankful for the scientists who developed this vaccine. I am thankful for the health care workers and volunteers who have given vaccines to people all over the nation. The nurse who put this vaccine in my arm is a hero to me.
The pandemic is not over, but these antibodies give me a better chance. I am still immunocompromised, but I have a better shot at staying healthy and protected from the coronavirus; for that, I am grateful.
You never know the story of the person next to you. For a long time, I stood next to people, knowing I was immunocompromised; my peers knew nothing of this. You never know if the person next to you in the class has underlying conditions that make them more susceptible to illness.
If you are given the opportunity to take the vaccine, remember it is not only to protect yourself, but the countless people who may be more vulnerable.