My Vaccine Experience

Have you gotten your vaccine yet? If it helps, let me tell you about mine.

I just got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The side effects weren’t pleasant, but they were manageable — I had about six hours of flu-like symptoms that started six hours after I got the shot, then a headache in the morning. Tylenol helped.

I wasn’t excited about getting the shot. I’m wasn’t worried about the less than one in a million chance of blood clots, but I expected the flu-like symptoms and the headache and I dreaded them.

But I am still happy with my choice.

After all, if there’s one thing I’m a pro at, it’s how to be sick — I suffer from chronic illness and I’ve spent more than half of my life sick. Voluntarily submitting to more sick time wasn’t all that appealing, but it helped knowing I was getting vaccinated to prevent risk of serious illness or death in the future.

Here’s a tip: When things you can’t control are going to feel bad, try to make the things you can control feel good.

I chose the least unappealing options I could — a local pharmacy where I would feel more comfortable than a national chain or a drive-thru, and one shot instead of two. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require getting a second shot a few weeks later, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered in a single dose.)

I made the appointment when I could clear out my schedule for two days, stocked up on food I like and audiobooks, and attempted to hydrate myself the day of the appointment.

In the meantime, I took stock of my motivations. Some are selfish, and others are altruistic.

On the altruistic side, even if I am low risk, I don’t want to contract COVID-19 and spread it to someone who is at greater risk of hospitalization or death from it. I don’t want to be a source of concern for people around me who are worried about my well-being, or worried about me spreading COVID to others.

Although I prefer teaching online to teaching in the classroom, my students mostly learn better in person. I plan to return to the classroom in the fall, and I don’t think it is ethical to ask students to spend time indoors with an unvaccinated person.

I want to contribute to the U.S. (and the world) achieving herd immunity — ideally before more new variants develop and spread. I want to contribute to our society going back to normal (whatever our new normal will look like), for everyone’s physical, emotional, and economic well being.

On the selfish side, although I care about my health, I also have some more trivial and immediate concerns. I want to go see two comedians perform in June (Punkie Johnson and Michelle Wolf). If I’m going to be indoors in a comedy club where everyone’s (masked) mouths will be open and laughing, I want to be vaccinated first.

Additionally, now that people are starting to get together again, I’m going to have some serious FOMO if I’m not included. Everyone has different comfort levels for what they think is safe. Some friends won’t be willing to see me until we are both vaccinated, and I want to see them.

Someday, I hope the kind people who make the vaccines can make one with gentler side effects. Until then, a few hours of discomfort I was able to resolve with Tylenol were a much better choice than continuing to put myself and others at risk of dying from COVID-19 — and necessitating the extreme measures we’ve taken to slow down its spread.

If I can do it, you can do it. If you haven’t gotten your shot yet, please get it soon.

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.