I wanted to share my experience with the Pfizer Vaccine. Because of my health conditions, I was extremely nervous about having the vaccine. I suffer from Primary Sjogrens Syndrome, Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS) and Fibromyalgia. I also have multiple allergies so the thought of having a vaccine that may trigger a reaction was a major concern.
My Experience With The Pfizer Vaccine
Pfizer Was Selected For Me
My doctor started reassuring me early on it would all be fine and I would be well looked after at the time of the vaccine. We were both concerned about the possibility of an allergic reaction/anaphylactic shock at the time of the jab given my history. As time went on he told me I would definitely be given the Pfizer vaccine and have to have it done at the hospital. Because if I did have a bad reaction they would be able to make sure I was okay.
Although I have had vaccines in the past (more than 30 years ago) with no issues, I am not allowed to have the influenza vaccination because of the chance of a bad reaction. This is partly due to my egg allergy and the role eggs play in the production of the vaccine. I would rather have the flu than take the risk frankly. Mind you, this last eighteen months with COVID and wearing a mask at all times, neither Barnet Boy nor I have had colds or flu which has been a positive at least. But the COVID vaccine, being new, was a complete unknown.
Well the Astrazeneca vaccine was never option for me as it is not recommended for someone with blood conditions like APS. At the time I was due for vaccination, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had just become available in Italy. I quite liked the idea of that one as it is one shot only (only one chance of a reaction was my thinking). But it is the same type of vaccine as Astrazeneca and again wasn’t even considered an option for me. That left Moderna but my doctor was quite clear that for ‘fragile subjects’ the ‘go-to’ vaccine is Pfizer.
The hospital contacted me to give me an appointment on the morning of 19 May 2021. I had a few days notice so I had time prepare!
Preparing for the Vaccine
The first thing was to take really good care of myself for the few days I had before V-day. I carefully avoided eating anything that might provoke an allergic reaction and basically wrapped myself in cotton wool, metaphorically.
My doctor had worked out a preparation schedule for me with supporting medication which included antihistamine.
I felt sick all the way to the hospital – but I was a nervous wreck. It took an early morning phone call to my Mum and a lot of deep breathing to calm my anxiety. It really did feel like stepping into the unknown. For someone who doesn’t have autoimmune diseases and allergies this will all sound very extreme. For someone who does, you will know exactly what I mean! My life has to be so controlled to stay well and for this vaccine I was having to step well outside my comfort zone. I was having to trust strangers to inject me with something that may or may not give me anaphylactic shock. It is not a good feeling!
Barnet Boy drove me to the hospital as obviously I couldn’t risk driving myself in case I was taken ill. The dogs came with us for the ride and so BB could walk and play with them while I was at the hospital. A much better idea than leaving them on their own at the house for three hours and not knowing if we would return to chewed furniture!
The Vaccine Centre
There were four doors going into the vaccine centre and a member of medical staff in a white coat who was advising people on which door to use. As I was a first vaccine candidate I was told to go into registration and there were lots of people filling in forms, all socially distanced. But I had completed my forms at home as they took some time to work through. They comprised several pages of information about the vaccine to read through. Then five pages of questions in Italian to be answered in Italian. I had filled them in carefully, even chuckling over things like ‘please list any allergies’ where the space for a response was ridiculously small!
I am glad I had completed them at home as I was put straight to the front of the queue. A really lovely, welcoming lady checked me in and told me what to expect. It was so nice to be greeted with such a lovely smiling person (even behind a mask) when I was feeling so nervous.
Consultation with a Doctor
Then I had to go through to the doctor and there were four people in the queue ahead of me. I had a very comprehensive discussion of health and allergies with him. Another friendly and reassuring person. He marked me my form with a big red cross and told me I would have a cannula fitted in my arm for safety. I would also have to wait 45 minutes after the jab to be monitored in case of a reaction.
Having the Vaccine
I was sent into the next room which was a waiting area. There were three people ahead of me in the queue. Very quickly it was my turn and I was taken into a vaccination room where the nurses were playing (and dancing to) reggae music! I thought that was great. They teased me about my English name and my Italian accent, they were so lovely! I told them about my allergy to plasters and they immediately responded by pulling out some hypoallergenic tape.
The nurse had a devil of a job putting a cannula in as my veins took one look at the needle and disappeared. One of the nurses told me I wasn’t to worry, I was being given Pfizer which was the safest vaccine for me and I was going to be properly monitored. Tutto andra bene she said, everything will be fine. It turned out the cannula hurt more than the vaccine which I felt go in but with no pain or discomfort. Time-wise that was 15 minutes after I first arrived at the centre. Very efficient and a very positive experience.
The Long Wait
Then I had to sit in another waiting room for 45 minutes. There were a few others, chairs very spaced out as even those without health issues had to wait 15 minutes after their vaccine.
I very quickly got a headache and a very dry throat and mouth which they said was perfectly normal. Other than that I was fine. I did struggle with the noise with all the chattering and the constant movement of people. I also really suffered with the bright lights overhead. Unfortunately I am very sensitive to noise, light, heat and smells! Those lights were like torture! Other than that after fifteen minutes I started to relax as I could not feel any immediate bad reaction coming on.
The Scary Bit
My experience with the Pfizer vaccine, and Covid vaccines generally, then did get a bit scary! Not for me personally! The lady sitting opposite me was not so lucky. Five minutes after her jab (I don’t know which one she had) she told me her stomach was itching and showed me her rash. As I looked it travelled up her body, over her face and down her arms in seconds! It was horrible! And so fast!
The lady the other side of me banged on the glass for the doctor and she came running but in that minute or so it took her the woman started struggling to breathe and collapsed making the most ghastly gurgling noises! She didn’t have a cannula unfortunately as she was not high risk for a reaction. The staff carried her to the next room where they had to give her epinephrine.
Note: I saw her when I went for my second vaccine – she was preparing to have a cannula fitted and was being well looked after.
Arriving Back Home
When my waiting time was up, they removed my cannula and I was reunited with BB and the boys. It was so wonderful to get home.
Same Day After Effects
I was already feeling very tired when I got home. It is an hour’s drive and it had been a very eventful morning. My arm, neck and shoulder began to hurt, including my underarm, and my legs were heavy and aching. I felt like I was dragging my legs when I walked. I took some paracetamol. All afternoon I would have made a good extra in a zombie move but by evening I was beginning to feel much better. All I kept thinking was, at least I didn’t have an allergic reaction. That poor woman!
The Day After the Vaccine
I had the best night’s sleep in ages. I suffer with sleep disturbance, so to actually go to bed at 9.45pm and sleep solidly to 7am was a gift! But I didn’t feel too good when I did wake up.
The first thing I noticed was that my arm hurt where I had received the vaccine. Much more localised around the site of the vaccine. It hurt to lift my arm.
As I got up and moved around I realised I was a bit breathless, with a chesty cough. My eyes hurt and were gooey. I also had a mouthful of painful ulcers. A very slight temperature and flushed appearance completed the picture. This continued most of the day with the flushed appearance gradually fading by evening.
The Second Day After the Vaccine
A bad night’s sleep, weird dreams mainly, but I awoke feeling much better. I was just aware of my sore mouth and pain in the arm.
Because I was feeling much better and it was a sunny day I made a stupid mistake. I went outside to sit in the sun with the dogs and put some washing out on the washing line. Half way through I started to feel really exhausted and an awful dragging weariness that reminded me of a Fibromyalgia flare up.
The Third Day after the Vaccine
While not so tired and my arm didn’t hurt so much, my mouth was terrible. I went to the Pharmacy and got a gel treatment for that. Immediate relief after first use I have to say! A day of hot flushes, no temperature, all other stats normal but dreadful neck and facial flushing and the feeling of heat!
The Fourth Day after the Vaccine
Dreadful night owing to hot flushes and diarrhoea (joy unconfined). Woke with ongoing diarrhoea and a flushed, sore face.
By the fifth day I improved in leaps and bounds and was pretty much back to normal after that.
And so to round 2 of my experience of the Pfizer vaccine. I had to wait 42 days for the second jab according to the Italian protocol for vaccination at the time. I followed all the preparatory precautions as I did for the first jab. We arrived in good time at the vaccine centre. Same level of efficiency and friendliness, I got through the initial queue quickly again as I had again already completed the required documents at home in advance.
It all went well as I prepared to receive the vaccine. I kept mentioning that I was allergic to plasters as they forget. They are on auto pilot, just think of all the people they deal with per day! The nurse agreed with me the hypoallergenic plaster he would use for the cannula.
Unfortunately he then blew it by swabbing my arm with something that smelt like pure bleach! The smell quickly permeated my three layer mask and I screeched! Is that bleach? Yes he said, it has bleach in it. I am allergic to bleach I told him as he quickly washed off my arm to remove. Now, dear reader, is it me or is there a reason you write out the long list of allergies on the form they give you? Clear, on my list is CANDEGGINA which is Italian for bleach. He was very apologetic but got rolled eyes from me.
He did a good job with the cannula though, no pain with that, and I didn’t even feel the needle for the vaccine.
As before, I had to wait 45 minutes in a waiting room. As I left the treatment room they gave me the official piece of paper proving I had received both vaccines (yippee!).
I had the same problem as before in the waiting room, too many people, noise and bright lights. It was also hot! After half an hour my left hand started to feel funny and it went red and itchy and tingly. Within minutes my right hand did the same. The nurse I mentioned it too was unconcerned and said it was a common symptom of anxiety. Though after half an hour of waiting I didn’t feel anxious until my hands started playing up. After ten minutes they went back to normal. I confess, speaking as someone prone to allergic reactions, it sure felt like one to me! At least it was only temporary.
I also kept sneezing and developed a dreadful roaring in my ears, like when you have heavy catarrh or when your ears are affected by pressure on the plane. That finally started to clear a bit during the car journey home.
Medicating In Anticipation
Once I got home I worked ahead and took some paracetamol instead of waiting for any side effects to develop.
Four hours after the vaccine, apart from a bit of a headache and feeling tired I had no reaction to mention. Even my arm didn’t hurt at this point.
Six hours after the vaccine I had a hot flush much like the ones I experienced after the first jab. I had hoped I would be spared those this time around. Luckily it was just the one. At the same time a dragging fatigue crept in that makes walking anywhere a real effort.
I went to bed at 7pm and slept solid all night.
The Days After The Vaccine.
I woke up the day after the vaccine feeling much better, sore arm and slightly tired but pretty much back to normal. Unfortunately that didn’t last as the next day I woke up with gooey, sticky eyes and in considerable pain coupled with exhaustion. Again, much as I experience with the first jab, almost like a sudden flare up of Fibromyalgia. I was very careful with what I did and what I ate, and rested which seemed to be the approach to take. Plus keeping going with paracetamol.
The next day I awoke with diarrhoea that lasted a while but eventually cleared. From that point onwards I began to get back to normal.
In spite of all the concern about possible allergic reactions, my experience of the Pfizer vaccine was positive on the whole. As always, I was very impressed with the Italian health service and the care I received. The side effects were not pleasant but were very manageable. To be honest a lot less hassle than a flare with Fibromyalgia for example. I did find it interesting that the reaction to the second vaccine was like a milder version of the one I had originally. Right down to the diarrhoea!
Two days after the second vaccine I received an SMS from the Health Ministry with details of my vaccination and how I could upload a vaccine certificate as a green pass on my Immuni App. That took moments and now magically I have my own QR code and proof of vaccination that will be accepted for travelling.
Now just need the case numbers to die down to allow me to actually travel to see my parents in the UK as even though I am vaccinated I remain a high risk!
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!