By Prof Dr James Koh Kwee Choy
I had arrived early. It was half an hour before my appointment. The usual SOPs were followed—QR code scanned, temperature taken, hands sanitised, mask checked and social distancing adhered to.
I joined the others who were already there waiting and soon I was called up. My identity was checked and verified.
Then it was time for a briefing and a ten-minute counselling session with an assigned doctor. A short medical history was taken—covering medical conditions and medications. I was given time for any questions I might have. When the doctor was satisfied that it was safe for me to receive the vaccine, I was given a consent form to sign.
With everything in order, it was time for my jab. The injection itself was very fast and painless, just a very small nick that you hardly feel at all.
My appointment took about two hours, including a half an hour post-jab observation to ensure that you do not have any severe reactions such as an anaphylactic shock.
ON THE SIDE
Side effects vary widely but it is very rare that you will experience severe reactions. I had pain and swelling at the injection area and was tired for about three days. I slept a lot. Some of my colleagues had fever and chills.
The effects were more pronounced for me with the second dose. The pain was more intense, my left shoulder was more swollen and I really felt very, very tired and sleepy. I also had swollen lymph nodes. The side effects lasted more than a week. This time I took some paracetamol to ease the pain. Taking mild pain relief such as paracetamol is fine but try to avoid Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
These side effects are expected reactions to a vaccine. You don’t have to worry about them. It shows that your body is working to produce antibodies. Then again, if you don’t have side effects that does not mean it is not working. In fact, you should consider yourself lucky!
However, if you experience breathlessness or extreme dizziness, seek medical help immediately.
There really isn’t much we need to do to prepare. Some people may be trying to sleep more, eat well and exercise regularly. There’s no harm in that as we should always be cultivating good healthy habits. It is good to be well rested because when you receive the vaccine, the body is at war. So if you are well rested, your body will be better at fighting than if you are overly tired.
Similarly, after you have received the vaccine, just listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, rest. Don’t immediately return to strenuous workouts or start a new exercise regime.
There is also no need to specifically eat or fast before your appointment. But if you are like me and you get hungry easily, make sure to eat something before you go.
If you are feeling a bit under the weather you don’t have to be worried. You can still get the jab.
THE SECOND DATE
The second dose comes within three weeks after the first. If you can’t make the stipulated date and time, you can reschedule it. Just don’t leave it for too long. Although all is not lost if you miss your second dose—as some studies have shown that one dose still offers some protection—it is important to have both doses to ensure maximum efficacy.
My second appointment was much faster than the first, taking just a bit more than an hour as there wasn’t a counselling session and you won’t have to fill up any more forms.
After the second dose, your body will build up protection to the virus in about two weeks. This does not mean that you are no longer susceptible to the virus. You can still get infected. The vaccine does not protect you from the virus. What it does is prevent you from getting a severe case of COVID-19 that can lead to death.
This is also important because if the infection is mild, the virus load is less. This means you are less likely to spread it and if you do, it will also be milder.
NOT EVERYONE IS A MATCH
There are two groups of people though who should take precaution. Firstly, those whose immune systems have been suppressed for example if you are undergoing chemotherapy or if you are living with HIV/AIDs. Secondly, are those with a history of anaphylactic shock.
If you are in any of these groups, check with your doctor who will monitor and advise you about taking the vaccine as your body needs to be stable before you do.
There are some cases in which your appointment will be postponed: if you have received another vaccine, for instance a flu or hepatitis B vaccine, in the two weeks prior to your appointment date, you will be asked to reschedule your COVID-19 vaccine shot. This is to allow the body time to recover from the other vaccines.
Also, if you have had a COVID-19 infection, there needs to be a 3-month gap between recovery and your vaccination. Although someone who has had the COVID-19 virus will develop antibodies, studies have indicated that they only last for about 6 months. You should therefore still register for the vaccination just like everyone else. You do not need to take any other tests.
TO LOVE AND PROTECT
All of us who can take it, should do so because we’re the ones who can protect those who are not as strong.
To gain herd immunity, 80 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated. That means most of us need to take the jab. It’s like having a city fortified with able people protecting the very young, the sick and the old. If we do that, we have a better chance of winning. But if we all start to say that we don’t want to fight, and that we just want others to fight on our behalf, what will happen?
WAITING FOR THE RIGHT ONE
There is no one vaccine that is better than the other. Some are traditional vaccines that use an inactivated virus to which the body reacts by producing antibodies. The newer methods use something called the messenger RNA (mRNA), that enter the muscle cells—this is why the muscle becomes very painful. The mRNA causes the muscle cell to make components (or subunits) of the virus, in this case just the spikes of the coronavirus. These are displayed on the surface of the muscle cell causing the body to react by producing antibodies. While the different vaccines work differently, they are all just as safe and effective.
So please don’t wait. Herd immunity needs to happen as quickly as possible as the virus will mutate. The faster we are able to vaccinate people, the less time the virus will have to mutate in the community. This means we cut down the chances that it will evolve into something even more deadly.
Besides, the two doses are not the only ones we will need to take. The virus will mutate and you will need to get booster shots regularly. This means whether you wait or you don’t, booster shots will be part of our life for the foreseeable future.
MAKE THAT COMMITMENT
Get the vaccine because we’re not just protecting ourselves but protecting others. If we do not reach herd immunity, it may not take away the personal protection of those who are vaccinate but what it does mean is that we might live from one MCO (movement control order) to another.
About the Author: Prof Dr James Koh (pictured above) is the Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, Infectious Diseases Consultant at the International Medical University.