Covid Vaccination: My Astra Zeneca Experience
If you’re awaiting your covid vaccinations, cautious about side effects or just curious about what happens at the vaccination clinics, today’s post may help. This is an account of my experience getting vaccinated as someone with chronic illness.
We’ve come a long way since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Now we’re experienced in navigating lockdowns, whipping out our face coverings for going shopping, and here we are at the point of having vaccinations to protect us against coronavirus and (hopefully) its mutations.
We’re two weeks away from the end of lockdown three, but regarding vaccinations — “we’re not there yet”.
Since the covid-19 vaccinations have been approved and rolled out, it’s been a bit of a lottery as to when you’d get yours. So while many people are now fully vaccinated, a vast amount — including many chronically ill and disabled who were missed off the priority group list as well as the entire over 18s group — are still waiting. We’re not there yet.
Having recently received my second vaccination, I am one of the 33.7M* (date 6th July 2021) people in the UK today who are now fully vaccinated. I count myself lucky to be in this situation.
So I thought it might be helpful to share my experience getting “the jab”. This is an honest account coming from my perspective as someone who has chronic illness.
My husband was called up first — he received a text followed by a letter informing him that as a carer for me, he was now able to book his vaccinations via the NHS online system. Then I received a text alerting me to book in the same way, so I too had to follow the link.
Booking our appointments was something of a ‘pulling out of hair’ experience. Time slots were very few and far between, vaccination centres were far flung destinations and when you’d think you’ve finally got a slot sorted, you’d lose it.
My other half, Sean would often visit the site to try again but there wouldn’t be anything. Then I happened to see someone mention on a Facebook group that more time slots had been made available on the system so we jumped on and booked right up. Still nothing especially local to us (we couldn’t figure how so many neighbours were getting closer venues that we were never offered), we managed to get slots at the Darlington Arena vaccination site. Being an easy access venue, I figured it would be the best place for me. Neither appointment was on the same day though, so Sean rang the booking line to see if anything could be done. They suggested I go along with Sean to see if I could get the jab at the same time, so that was the plan.
THE FIRST JAB
Back in March (2021) Sean and I went together to the vaccination centre at Darlington Arena for our first vaccination jabs, which on the day turned out to be running extremely behind. We were told there were shortages in administrators so the result was a queue tailing back to the carpark. It was a hideously cold and blustery day to be stood outside in a queue. I pulled my coat’s furry hood up and tried to retract into my own world while my anxiety rose.
I have IBS (on top of everything else!) and all of a sudden I found myself with the urgency to get to the toilet fast. I hate it when this happens but this is how it goes with me, especially when my anxiety’s triggered. So Sean had to catch the attention of a security lady at the main entrance to request the toilet, to be told she’d escort me. The toilet wasn’t even close by; I lost count how many doors and corridors we went through (me, waddling) before we reached the disabled toilet, and even then, security waited for me outside the door. I was just relieved to finally get to a toilet, and thank goodness there was one there, but talk about embarrassing.
It was a relief getting out of the cold once the line gradually led us inside to register at the desk. Beyond that, we found ourselves being directed to another line, before heading to the arena foyer where two-metre socially distanced tape and markers snaked, every so often warmed with free standing heaters, where we’d continue our wait to go next. Basically we were queueing for queues and freezing our backsides off in the process. So that was fun.
Finally we made it to the actual vaccination hub where a large whiteboard announced that Astra Zeneca was the vaccination being administered that day. I can’t say I had any preference over the brand I’d get anyway so that was that.
We were directed toward one of the segregated clinics and sat down before a small table. It was this point where the administrator asked me if I wanted to get my vaccination while I was there, so it worked out alright. She quickly ran through some brief questions to check we were okay to receive the vaccination (I was asked if there was a chance I could be pregnant) and checked our personal details, while a vaccinator came over with the vaccine and swiftly gave us the jab. Woo-hoo!
As any injection would, the jab was a decent sting in the several seconds it took to inject but nothing I couldn’t grin and bear. A bee sting is certainly worse than the covid vaccine, I can tell you that for certain!
Once we’d been jabbed — which was the quickest part of the event — we were to sit socially distanced from other just-been-vaccinated people in a side room; fifteen minutes for drivers, five minutes for everyone else. Thankfully we were fine and were able to head straight home.
AFTER THE FIRST DOSE
The afternoon following my first vaccination dose, the reactions kicked in. Pain-wise my arm just felt ever so slightly tender around the injection site. It was the wall of exhaustion that floored me — it felt like a fibromyalgia flare when I’ve overdone it the day before and I’m completely wrecked. So I ended up needing to go to bed after lunch where I slept three hours straight.
The following few days went downhill as my reaction worsened. Now I felt truly ill. So nauseous, I went right off my food. My lymph glands were swollen, my body painfully ached, and my arm now felt so overwhelmingly sore that I couldn’t lay on that side for days.
I improved later into the week; my appetite returned and the aches and pains subsided. Of course, I live with chronic pain on a normal day so pain and fatigue never completely vanishes for me. But I knew the vaccination side effects had passed.
THE SECOND DOSE
Waiting three months for the second dose seemed a lifetime later so I was glad to finally get fully vaccinated. Now we were into June, the weather was kinder on the wait. We didn’t need our coats to survive standing outside the arena this time. Luckily we were straight into the building this time but the high expectation dropped beyond that point; sadly it turned into an event in its own right. While the queue appeared shorter from the start, it transpired there was a big backlog inside. Just like last time, the line of people waiting for the jab snaked through the arena foyer but this time, it filled the entire room. It was daunting to say the least. There was word of shortages in vaccinators again, electric going down and a ‘medical emergency’ that had halted the queue. I dreaded the wait already and we’d only just got to the back of this line of doom.
One thing I don’t do well is standing on the spot for very long. And it wasn’t long til I started pacing from one foot to the next, trying to alleviate the strain on my joints. I couldn’t bare it. I hurt. My eyes welled up; I could feel the anxiety like a wave engulfing me as I tried to shift my sight away from the focus of a million legs. I needed out but I was trapped, penned in by hazard tape and warnings. I couldn’t hold my weight without the raging heat of pain in my legs, so I just had to sit down. The cold floor gave light relief — at least I was on solid ground. But then the queue would shift on, so Sean would help pull me up to stand again, only to do it all over again for a pause in the pain.
One-forty was the appointment; it was after three o’clock by the time we got anywhere near the top of the queue. Worrying about Reuben at nursery, Sean had to ring the school to ask them to keep him back til we could pick him up. I felt awful doing that to him.
As I leant against the building frame, the end-queue marshall noticed my discomfort and ushered for me to go outside and take my mask off. I sat down on the floor again, but the marshall called someone from St John Ambulance over who fetched a chair for me. He gave me a bottle of water and said he’d make sure I was okay.
Oh how the experience could have been so different. I was told I should have said something earlier, that they could have helped me, fast tracked me through. Hearing this made me sink. The pain I could have saved myself. The reality really wasn’t that simple though.
The marshalls and medical staff who helped me at the end of the queue were stars; so attentive to me. But way back in the queue system there was no-one in sight to help. We couldn’t have left the queue even if we were to see someone. Only a security guard would occasionally appear right back at the entrance, and no one walked the floor to see if everyone was alright. I wasn’t alright.
From the moment I got the help I needed, the process went as it should. It was seamless from the point of entering the clinic. We were directed straight to a booth where we sat down and were taken through our ID info, just the same as the first time, and were prepped for our jabs.
This time I did feel the needle. Oh man, it hurt bad. I think with all the upset and anxiety, I’d got myself so tensed up my arm likely wasn’t in the best way for getting jabbed. But I braved it through a wince. I got my vaccination card completed: job done.
AFTER THE SECOND DOSE
After a couple of hours of site soreness, that was it. My arm was good; I was fine. Thankfully the second dose brought me no side effects and I was perfectly normal. I mean, I had joint pain from the standing, but in respect of vaccination reaction: absolutely zero.
And that was that. I’m fully vaccinated and quite content with it.
The process to getting vaccinated against covid was a huge stress. From the booking system being a game of chance (you’d have more luck with the lottery) to the queuing system taking over an hour beyond appointment times, I personally found it a taxing experience.
Opting for the Darlington Arena when we booked our jabs was purely based on its supposed easy access. Yet on the first visit I had to request the toilet to which I was chaperoned down several corridors beyond a side door near the main desk. Was that easily accessible? No.
And on the second visit, an extreme wait meant my pain condition was triggered and exacerbated. Nobody came to my aid in the hour long queue. No medical staff were aware of me until the last moment. There were no chairs for the disabled. Was that easily accessible? No.
Considering why we’d been called up for vaccinations in the first place – being in the priority group 6 for medical conditions – it made no sense why there no personnel available to assist the very disablements they were serving. In that case, what makes such a venue ‘easy access’?
I want to be lenient and say, hey, we’ve not done this before, it’s been a first for the world let alone the government. Lessons can only be learnt from what errors we make first. Isn’t that an analyst’s job though? To adequately plan situations and ensure the end client is served properly according to the circumstances?
Too many people with disabilities have been forgotten about and missed off, and when any of the ‘lucky ones’ have managed to get an invitation, it’s been a massive disregard to the less abled.
I don’t know about you but that’s a lot to slip through the net.
I would hope that any future vaccination roll out — say if a third, top up jab is later required — wouldn’t be modelled on the process we followed.
Rant over! Remember, this was just my experience. I’ve often heard people say they were in and out getting jabbed in five minutes, and even booking was much simpler for many as they were just contacted by their gp and were able to pop locally.
So don’t let me put you off — go get jabbed!
Thank you to the scientists and lab technicians who worked tirelessly to create these life saving vaccinations, for which I am grateful. I feel privileged to have received my jabs; I just didn’t feel the privilege having to sit on a cold hard floor in pain.
Have you had your vaccination? If so, how was the experience for you? I’d love to hear your views in the comments right below.