PEOPLE Staffers Share Symptoms, Sheer Joy After COVID Vaccine: 'I Felt 'Walking on Sunshine'-Style Elation'
PEOPLE writers and editors share their reactions to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines
Alex Apatoff, Digital Lifestyle Director
First shot: We currently reside in the Chicagoland area, where there was such high demand for vaccines that this awesome teen set up a whole system to help seniors and other high-risk people get appointments. Securing a March appointment seemed like a lost cause until we decided to try some of the zip codes in Illinois that we would be driving through on our way back from visiting grandparents in Florida — and lo and behold, there were openings at a downstate Walmart. I felt guilty about taking a spot there, but the pharmacist thanked me profusely for coming, saying that even back in those earlier days, they were having a tough time getting shots in arms: "We're approaching people in the aisles trying to convince them," she said. When it was over, I felt true, "Walking on Sunshine"-style elation, and the next day only experienced some fatigue (which also could have had something to do with that three-day drive with two kids under 4).
Second shot: The Cook County vaccine hotline helpfully secured us a spot at a FEMA site a half-hour away, so we didn't have to drive all the way back downstate (though, props to the Walmart pharmacy there for following up with us to ensure we got our second shots). The vibe in the abandoned Kmart-turned-vaccination clinic was also jubilant (and the piped-in Kmart music definitely added to the vibe — "Unwritten," anyone?). Plus, the very friendly National Guard guy checking me in complimented my Radiate.Co pin. I had even fewer side effects the second time, and now am just counting down the minutes to the fully-vaxxed haircut, dentist appointment and pedicure I've been putting off for a year.
Jen Juneau, Digital News Writer
I went back and forth about whether to get the vaccine once it started becoming more widely available, as there are so few studies out about pregnant women and the effects of the vaccine on newborn babies. I struggled for four years with infertility and am finally expecting my first child in August, so I was extra cautious, considering I work from home and am generally very low risk of contracting COVID (although my husband and I did both get it last March, right before lockdown, but luckily had mild symptoms).
So I did some research, talked to my doctors and ultimately chose to go forward with getting the vaccine once I read all the accounts of women whose babies were not only fine after their mothers received the vaccine during pregnancy, but had tested positive for protective antibodies too! And then the CDC came out and recommended it, as well. That made it an easy decision, and I'm so grateful to be protected, both for myself and my daughter on the way.
First shot: I got my first dose on May 1, after reaching the point of "viability" in my pregnancy. My doctors recommended getting it as soon as possible in my second trimester, but again — paranoia. By the time the day arrived for me to get the shot, though, I was more than ready and not at all nervous. I made my appointment online for our local mall where I live here in Oviedo, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), where they have a huge and well-run vaccine distribution center, and was in and out within half an hour. My only symptom was a sore arm, which I'd heard would likely be the case and that the second shot was the one I really needed to clear my calendar for.
Second shot: I returned to the same location for this one on May 22, and was surprised — and a little sad, honestly, considering how many people haven't been vaccinated yet — to see how empty it was. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes (with a BB-8 Band-Aid that, yes, my 36-year-old self requested from the pile on the table), and tried to distract myself during the day so I didn't notice the symptoms when they came. But aside from a sore arm and a little bit of temporary redness in my cheeks — which may have not even been related, as it's already really hot down here in Florida — they never did. I'm now 72 hours past my second dose, and a sore arm was still the worst of it for me. I was a little tired, but again, I'm pregnant and about to hit my third trimester, so that's not unusual. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten off with just a sore arm (which feels fine now!), but now that I think about it, my two pregnant friends who have gotten the vaccine had a similar experience, so maybe we're on to something ...
Kate Hogan, Digital Specials Director
First shot: I decided to put my name on some cancellation waiting lists at pharmacies around my area outside Chicago, not thinking I'd ever hear from anyone. But after about a week, I got a call on a snowy March afternoon asking if I could be at a Walmart 30 minutes away in an hour. I actually cried when I got the call — I have a high-risk husband and three small kids, and not a day goes by that I don't think of our late colleague, Alison Schwartz, who succumbed to COVID-19 in April of 2020. This opportunity felt like the first step toward lifting a weight I've been carrying all year, a feeling I know so many of you have, too. The process was smooth and though I was zonked about 24 hours later, I was so grateful.
Second shot: Three weeks later I returned for my second shot, and was lucky to not have any side effects outside of a sore arm. My husband had his second shot of Moderna on the same day, and didn't feel too bad, either. Much of my concern through COVID-19 has been for my 8-month-old son, who can't yet mask and therefore can't do much of anything these days. But between my shots, a study came out showing antibodies are present in the breastmilk of vaccinated nursing moms, which has given me an even greater sense of relief. We aren't changing much about how we've lived our lives in the past 13 months, but feel so much better having this added layer of safety for our little family.
Naledi Ushe, Digital News Writer
First shot: NYC resident here! I was able to get in quickly because I was eligible during Phase 2 in late March due to a health condition. Thanks to social media I found out the Medgar Evers College's FEMA site had a lot of open spots for Brooklyn residents in specific area codes so I registered for that location.
The day of my appointment I arrived and checked in with my ID, proof of address (since I recently moved and my ID does not match), and proof of my health condition. The National Guard administrator of the vaccine teased me for my dull response to him asking if I was ready, but I was nervous so I wasn't in the mood for small talk. Afterward, I sat for 15 minutes and felt fine.
I happened to already have work off unrelated to the vaccine so I enjoyed the day with no symptoms aside from a sore arm.
Second shot: I returned to the same location three weeks later. The second time around I knew something was off right away. I called an Uber home rather than take the bus back. Once I got home, I was knocked out. My body felt very heavy and I kept describing the feeling to friends as getting a horse tranquilizer. A few hours after is when I got an awful migraine. I tried to be tough but ultimately, I had to call off work.
Day two was worse. I woke up with chills, a heavy body still and a slight fever. I already bought myself a self-care kit in case so I alternated between Tylenol and Advil, had a lot of Pedialyte, and soup which made things better. Did it suck? Yes. But, I feel safe now.
Chelsea White, Night News Editor
First Shot: Just days after I marked the one-year anniversary of when I fell ill with COVID-19, I was able to secure my first shot through Los Angeles County's mass vaccination program using Carbon Health's booking portal. I went to Dodger Stadium which was providing drive-up vaccinations. As soon as the vaccine was in my arm, I called my parents in New Zealand and we all cried. COVID-19 came so close to killing me this was the first step towards leaving that behind me and the first step for them to start feeling like I might be safe. As far as side effects, I had a mild headache and a very sore arm but nothing that impacted my ability to continue on with my day.
Second Shot: The Big One as I like to call it. This was big in so many ways, it felt like it took 1000 lbs. off my shoulders and also came with some tough side effects. The side effects included me being physically sick through the night and leaving me very lethargic requiring a day in bed. My doctors tell me this isn't uncommon amongst those who have had the virus. But as uncomfortable as the side effects were, they were not a tenth of what having COVID-19 feels like. I have Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome (PACS) — some call me a long-hauler — and it is a daily reminder of those nights I wondered if I would wake up. The reason I decided to be vaccinated was in the hopes I will never have another night like that and also so other people will never have to experience the pain of the virus firsthand. COVID-19 has stolen the lives of so many, stolen light from so many families, and stolen what I thought my future looked like. This vaccine is a chance for all of us to stop this virus from stealing more from us all.
Greg Hanlon, News Editor, Crime
My experience getting two Moderna doses was quick and easy, as efficient as it possibly could have been. I got them at Brandeis High School in New York City, and was impressed with how well-organized and professional everyone was, from the intake people to the security guards to the people giving shots. Everyone was friendly and had their jobs down cold.
First shot: I had some very mild symptoms the day after: A slight headache and some fatigue, but nothing too bad.
Second shot: The day after, I had temperature that reached 101, along with chills, fatigue, and a headache, but nothing too severe. It helped knowing it was for a good cause — and that I'd be fine when the aftereffects of the shot wore off. Really, it made me think how lucky I was not to have gotten COVID-19, where there's no such guarantee.
Two days after my second shot I woke up with a lingering slight headache, but Advil took care of it. For the rest of the day and since then, I've been feeling great — and grateful. Thank you, science!
Stephanie Emma Pfeffer, Health Writer/Editor
First shot: I was one of the last people in my circle of family and friends to get vaccinated because of eligibility requirements in Massachussetts. When the time came to sign up, I was so excited that I got on my laptop at 3 a.m. just to see if I could score a coveted appointment. My daughter's school was preparing to reopen full-time so the protection felt even more necessary. On the day of the shot, my son came with me "to hold your hand." I felt totally fine afterward. But about 5 days later I got legit COVID arm, a huge round/raised red bump surrounding the shot area and extending halfway down my arm! It was super itchy and the skin felt bizarrely hard, but it only lasted a few days.
Second shot: Having heard stories about the side effects of the second shot, I was worried. As a single parent, I can't exactly take a day off. My kids had to get to and from school, and there were meals to make, baths to give, remote piano lessons to coordinate. My shot was at 11 a.m. That night was rough—I couldn't sleep at all because of muscle aches. The bed literally hurt my body. The next morning I took ibuprofen and things got more manageable. I had prepared my kids for the fact that I might not be feeling well, and they were pretty good about keeping the whining and toy-throwing to a minimum. By late afternoon I was starting to feel bad again so we ordered pizza and they got to watch a movie. So now they're like,'When is your next shot?'
Charlotte Triggs, Managing Editor, People Digital
First Shot: In New Jersey, where I'm based, appointments for 38-year-olds without pre-existing conditions were all but impossible as recently as early April. By the time my group, 1C, was up for a turn, they were available wide. I gave myself the luxury of going the day after my husband Freddy got his (Pfizer) so I could observe how it hit him before going in for my own, at a local pharmacy. (Spoiler alert: He felt nothing.) I happened to be in store for Moderna instead, which I had heard might hit you harder (or at least hit women harder). One hour in, I had the sensation of a tingliness overtaking my affected arm, kinda like sand going into an hourglass, it got heavier and heavier. That night, sleeping on my side, I felt like my arm was actually broken, it was so sore, but I had no fever, and no other symptoms per se, and it pretty much went right away.
Second Shot: I'd heard this one is the doozy, so I timed this it to make sure my twins' birthday had passed before I might end up incapacitated-ish. (I also timed it to make sure it was a few days apart from when my babysitter got hers; she actually ended up needing the day off after her second Pfizer shot!) This time, I went in the morning, and by noon, I was really tired and even took a nap in the middle of the day. I got a kind of bizarrely strong second wind around 5pm, decided to take my daughter to ballet, go to the grocery store and cook a complicated middle eastern rice pilaf for dinner. But as I sat down to eat it, I felt ready to crash, and I ended up going to bed before my kids that evening, letting my husband handle bedtime alone. A couple hours later, I realized I had a fever in the 100 degree range which lasted through the night. In the morning, I woke up still feverish, but a second dose of Tylenol knocked it out, and from about 24 hours post-shot, I was symptom free.
Lindsay Kimble, Senior News Editor
First Shot: I got my vaccine at a CVS store in Westchester County, New York. I have to admit, it felt a bit odd to be getting a shot in the greeting card aisle of a drug store — but I was all for it! My first shot was in early April (the appointment secured after spending hours of the day refreshing the CVS website). I waited around 15 minutes before it was my turn, and the lovely pharmacist complimented my shoulder-baring dress (which, admittedly, I bought specifically for my vaccine moment). The shot was painless, and my only side effect from the first round was some arm pain that lasted about two days. It didn't feel any worse than the arm soreness from getting a flu shot.
Second Shot: At the beginning of May, I was back in CVS for round number two. I had an even shorter wait this time, and like round one, the shot itself was totally painless. I felt some arm numbness pretty immediately, but the rest of that night I was totally fine. The next morning, I woke up feeling like I had done an intense workout. My entire body was achy and sore, and I just felt overall exhausted. I had some head pain, but as a chronic headache sufferer, it was hard to tell if that was vaccine-caused or just my usual. I ended up calling out of work and mostly lazed in bed all day feeling incredibly fatigued. Luckily, the cruddy feeling didn't last. The next day, I was back to my normal self and so thrilled to be inoculated against the virus!
Morgan Evans, Associate News Editor
First shot: I don't like needles and I was nervous about getting the shot, but when I got the first jab, I was surprised that it not only was super quick, but I barely felt it. Later that evening, though, boy did I feel it. I got the shot around 5 pm and a few hours later I began to feel lightheaded and got a really bad throbbing headache. Didn't have a fever but just felt all over "unwell" as described in the symptoms package. I went to bed not feeling great and when I woke in the morning, I felt as if my entire body was just stiff. It hurt to move. I had terrible body aches, I was dizzy and I had a pretty bad "vaccine arm," which was very painful. I also felt like I was overheating, despite the fact that I luckily didn't have a fever. I felt pretty achy and tired all day but by the early evening, the pain started to subside. The next day, I felt a lot better though I had random spurts of arm pain appearing every now and then.
Second shot: The second time around I was more mentally prepared. Wasn't nervous for the jab but then, of course, I felt that the second shot hurt a bit more than the first. I also felt the symptoms right away this time as opposed to a few hours later. I'd say about 15 minutes after I started to feel dizzy and lightheaded and my arm hurt right away. I felt more pain in my arm than before. But this time, I immediately took some Tylenol hoping it would help suppress any more symptoms, which I believe did help a bit. I most had a bad headache and a lower back pain that night but nothing more. I thought I was in the clear but the next morning I woke up with a not so typical reaction. I woke up with puffy eyes and swelling around my face. I also felt itchy as if I had a bad allergic reaction. I called the Pfizer helpline and they said some people had reported different bad reactions (such as swelling and rashes ) to the shot which I could have had, but it wasn't totally clear. Apart from that, I dealt with the general "unwell" feeling once again but luckily no fever. The arm pain this time around lasted a lot longer. I felt it for about a week.
Julie Mazziotta, Associate Health Editor
First Shot: After writing hundreds (maybe close to a thousand?) of articles about COVID-19 over the last 14 months and volunteering at a vaccine site in D.C., I could not wait for my turn. There may have been some jumping around my apartment on the day I finally secured an appointment (apologies to my downstairs neighbors). My first shot of the Moderna vaccine at a nearby Walgreens was easy and painless, though the next day I was surprised to have a slight reaction — some achiness and exhaustion, along with a sore arm. After a full night of sleep, though, I was good to go.
Second Shot: I went back a month later for my second shot, where the very cheery pharmacist happily gifted me (a 29-year-old) with some vaccine stickers. All my friends also got Moderna and had pretty intense side effects after the second dose — chills, fever, headache — so they prepared me for the worst. I made it through the night without issue, but the fatigue, achiness, headache and slight nausea set in the next day. Thankfully, I was able to take a sick day and spent the next 10 hours on the couch, watching Moonstruck for the first time and catching up on Younger in between frequent naps. By 6 p.m., I was feeling better and even made it outside for a walk! Over the last year, I had dealt with intense anxiety about getting COVID-19, and in the weeks since my vaccination I feel like a new person. I'm seeing friends again, going on runs without a mask and have regained the sense of calm that I had lost.
Kara Warner, Staff Writer
Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine
I got my shot while on a family vacation in New Orleans, LA! My parents have been vaccinated since February but my brother and I were waiting for our eligibility (we live on opposite coasts, in California and New York). When we arrived in Louisiana, the state was already vaccinating people aged 16 and older and had dozens of appointments available daily (via Walgreens and CVS apps), so we booked our J&J shots through the Walgreens app.
Single Shot: The shot itself was virtually painless and the overall experience so fun because we bonded and made friends with with other people there waiting for their vaccines -- everyone was so excited.
My brother and I got our shots about 7 minutes apart and experienced the exact same side effect -- a wave of nausea -- about 30 minutes after the injection. It only lasted 3-5 minutes but it was wild how the timing was exact. I felt nauseated 7 minutes after my brother did, like clockwork. Later that night I had some flu-like symptoms that I expected (I always feel flu-ish after my annual flu shots): body aches, some chills and fever, but they were gone by the morning and easily cured by one dose of Tylenol. My brother felt fine (typical). I am so thrilled to be vaccinated and feeling pretty invincible, ha. Thank you, science!