How It Feels to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine
What are the physical and emotional effects of getting the shot? A volunteer firefighter who works with paramedics, ambulance drivers and the general public shares his personal experience — and some helpful advice
We’re just a month or so into 2021, and people all across the country have been lining up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. By February 22, more than 64 million Americans had received at least one dose. Among them was John Prete. He’s been a member of the Lindenhurst, NY Volunteer Fire Department for more than 50 years, and he serves on the team that assists emergency medical technicians on ambulance calls. “I joined the fire department right before my 19th birthday,” he says, “and I never imagined I’d still be part of it all these years later. I love the camaraderie and the feeling that you’re doing something good for your community.”
For Prete, it was that sense of community that made getting the vaccine a no-brainer. “I had no reservations at all,” he says. “I knew from reading about the trials that the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective, so it just seemed like the right thing to do. It can keep me and my family safe and protect people in my town, too. As far as I was concerned, there was no reason not to get the shot.”
While he had no qualms about rolling up his sleeve, he knows that others may be experiencing some qualms about it. That’s why he’s chosen to share his experience with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine here.
Q: How did you react when you found out you could schedule your shot?
Prete: I was really excited. I’ve been so anxious to get back to traveling and visiting my children and grandchildren. I got my shot through the fire department — hospital workers and first responders were among the first to be vaccinated in my state.
Q: Did you have any reservations about getting the shot?
Prete: I felt really confident about the shot itself. From what I’d read, it’s safe and way more effective than the flu vaccine. I figured, “Why not go with the science?” My only worry was that I felt there were so many others who could use the shot before me. I felt bad that I might be taking away a shot from a doctor or an EMT. And I wished that my wife and mother-in-law could get their shots, too.
Q: How did you work through those feelings?
Prete: I talked to my chief at the fire department about my concerns, and he assured me that there were plenty available for other front-line workers. He also pointed out that I was a front-line worker, too. After all, he said, people in the community are depending on me and other volunteers when they’re sick or injured and need to get to the hospital.
Q: What was the process leading up to your vaccination?
Prete: Everything was set up through the chain of command at the firehouse. The chief notified me and sent me a link to go online and schedule an appointment. So the whole process was quick and easy. After I registered, I got forms to fill out online, with instructions about what to bring with me the day of my vaccination. I was told to bring the forms with me to my appointment, and to make sure I had my ID on hand.
When I got to the site — it was at the cancer center at Stony Brook University Hospital — there were staff there to check my paperwork and ID. Everything was really well organized. There were no long lines, and it only took about five minutes to go through registration. I was asked to sign a consent form that talked about possible side effects from the vaccine, and then I was sent into another room for my shot.
The space was divided into cubicles with curtain dividers for each. As I walked in, I noticed all the equipment on hand just in case somebody had an adverse reaction. Just seeing that made me feel comfortable, knowing that everything was so professional. I remember thinking, “Everything will be fine — nothing’s going to go wrong.”
Q: How did the shot feel, and did you have side effects?
Prete: A nurse called me over to one of the cubicles, rubbed a little alcohol on my arm, and did the injection. It was a long needle, but I hardly felt it going in. It was pretty much like a flu shot, or any other shot I’ve ever had. That night my arm felt a little sore when I rolled over on it. But by the next day, the soreness had gone away completely.
Q: What were you told about getting the second dose?
Prete: Before I left the vaccination site the first time, I had to make an appointment for my second shot, three weeks later. When I got there, I had to show my vaccination card and sign a consent form. When the nurse called me in, we were making small talk and I didn’t even realize that she’d done the injection.
Some friends had told me that they experienced some side effects, like an upset stomach, after the second shot. But for me it was a piece of cake. My arm was a little sore to the touch that night, but that was it.
Q: Are you still following CDC guidelines?
Prete: Definitely. I was told that you can still get the virus and spread it after the shot, even though you may not have any symptoms. So you really have to be careful around other people. I still wear a mask whenever I go outside, I practice social distancing, and I wash my hands frequently. And no restaurants or large crowds for now!
[Editor’s note: The CDC recommends that you continue to wear a mask, avoid crowds and close contact with others, and wash your hands often as we learn more about how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions.]
Q: What would you say to people who are still unsure about the shot?
Prete: I really hope that everyone feels a sense of responsibility toward their neighbor. We all have individual rights, of course, but everyone else has rights, too. By getting the shot, we’re saying we respect others and care about them. We’re saying that we don’t want to give them a disease when we can do something to prevent it.
When people ask me about the vaccine, I tell them that there’s nothing to it. I had no adverse reactions and after getting it, I felt as normal as I do every day. Why not get it?
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. To limit the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked any time you’ll be in public. According to the CDC’s latest guidance means layering a disposable surgical mask underneath a snug-fitting cloth mask or placing a mask fitter over your cloth mask to ensure a tight fit. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department.