NORTHWEST CORNER — As a vaccine to prevent the coronavirus is distributed across the country, many residents have been receiving their first (and even second) doses of the shot in recent weeks. So, what is it like getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
The Winsted Phoenix interviewed three local frontline workers who received the vaccine about their experiences, their thoughts in deciding to be some of the first to receive the vaccine now that it’s approved, and what they hope others will learn as more residents qualify for vaccination.
Erin Ludwig of Canton, a caregiver for individuals with special needs, received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine this month and is set to receive her second dose at the beginning of February.
“I was a little nervous just because it’s so new,” Ludwig said in an interview with the Winsted Phoenix. “I’m tired of taking the test and being always afraid, so I signed up to be one of the first to take it… I miss my friends, I miss having a social life.”
Peter Marchand, chief of the Winchester Volunteer Fire Department, has been a firefighter for 52 years. Before deciding to get the vaccine, Marchand said he consulted with his doctors about the risks and they both encouraged him to get the shot because they believe it is perfectly safe.
“I was able to receive the COVID shot because we’re in Group 1A as firefighters,” Marchand said. “The potential is there daily that I have an interaction with someone who has COVID. I elected to get the vaccine to protect myself so I can continue to do that work.”
Connecticut is currently in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, which allows healthcare personnel, long-term care facility residents, and medical first responders to receive the vaccine. Gov. Ned Lamont recently announced that Phase 1B of vaccine distribution is set to begin next week, allowing those 75 years old and older to also make appointments and receive the vaccination.
All three frontline workers interviewed underscored the safety of the procedure itself, citing strictly enforced mask policies and social distancing at the vaccination site as well as an observation period for at least 15 minutes for all individuals receiving the vaccine to ensure the absence of a severe allergic reaction. Marchand also mentioned the use of a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website feature, that follows up with patients to check in on any possible adverse effects up to a week after receiving the vaccine.
“There was a person outside the door checking your name and appointment time and taking your temperature, making sure everyone had masks,” Marchand said about his experience. “It was flawlessly executed as far as the scheduling, and there was a follow up from the CDC every day I was getting a text message to report if I had any reactions or any problems with it.”
While Ludwig and Marchand received the Moderna vaccine, Amy Smith, a Torrington-based essential worker in the mental health field, had just received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the time of this interview.
“I was a little more hesitant to get the second dose because I had been reading about some other people’s experiences online, people who may have had some side effects,” Smith said. “But I knew that the chances of that were minimal, that even if I may end up feeling a little crummy for a couple of days, it would be much more beneficial to get the vaccine than to get COVID.”
As for how they felt after the vaccine, the workers all mentioned some arm soreness and minor fatigue, but no lasting symptoms.
“I had a very minor amount of soreness on my arm where the injection site was,” Marchand said. “But other than that, there was nothing. I had more of a reaction from my flu shot that I got from my doctor in October than I did from this vaccination.”
Marchand also emphasized the fact that receiving the vaccine does not reduce the need for individuals to wear a mask and socially distance themselves from those around them, as even vaccinated individuals can still spread the virus to others.
“We’re all hoping for things to return to the most normal as possible,” Marchand said. “But even though we’ve been vaccinated we all have to continue to wear our masks and social distance.”
Statistically, Connecticut has done better than other states in terms of administering the vaccines they received from the federal government, currently ranking fifth nationally for percent of the population vaccinated, according to a recent news conference from Governor Lamont. But despite its ranking, the state has only administered 60.4% of the 250,775 vaccines it has received as of Jan. 12, according to the CDC.
Ludwig appreciated the ease of her experience signing up for the vaccine but noted the challenges many who don’t own smartphones or lack Internet access might face when attempting to make an appointment, especially older adults who are next up to qualify.
“There should be a better setup for individuals who don’t have smartphones or who don’t easily have access to the internet,” Ludwig said. “There need to be better resources out there… the towns should reach out to anyone that is in need and qualifies and say hey, this is available to you.”
As for other recommendations to the state and localities when distributing the vaccine, Smith noted another community that she identifies as deserving more attention and resources during the process: military veterans in the state.
“I would love to see any of our veterans and their families who want the vaccine have the opportunity to be at the front of the line for it,” she said.
After working in high-risk positions for approaching a year, the frontline workers also had thoughts for those who may be hesitant or still deciding whether or not to receive the vaccine.
Marchand emphasized the importance of making an educated decision by working with your primary care provider to weigh the risks and benefits, as everyone has different health conditions and backgrounds.
Ludwig and Smith both agreed that the cost-benefit analysis of weighing the risks of COVID-19 and the risks of the vaccine itself makes their recommendations simple.
“The vaccine is safer than getting COVID,” Smith said. “If people do have questions or concerns about the vaccine, there’s so much information out there that people are sharing, and the more informed we are about it, the more that’ll help direct our choices and decisions around what appeals right to each individual.”
Ludwig gave a strong recommendation for signing up whenever you qualify for a dose.
“I would get it. I would get it because you’ll be protected, and it’ll make your life a lot easier,” Ludwig said. “And in terms of not being fearful, let’s put it this way… it’s better than going on a ventilator.”