A few days ago, I received an unexpected text:
‘Hi Imogen, you have been invited to book your COVID-19 vaccinations.’
While I’m obviously aware that people are being vaccinated, I wasn’t expecting my number to come up quite so quickly.
However, I had a quick Google to check if the link - provided by Accurx - was genuine, and it did indeed look like that’s the company the NHS has partnered with to offer the virtual booking system.
I received the text at around 3pm on Friday, Feb 5, and there were appointments for the very next day - roughly 11am through 6pm.
I booked the classic time of 2pm and began looking up what I might be expecting. However, I found that much of the online content around the COVID-19 vaccine came from people in the medical field.
While these sources are undoubtedly important, what I really wanted was some reassurance from someone who isn’t a doctor or nurse.
I wanted to hear from someone who could tell me what the experience was like from a patients’ perspective.
How long were they hanging around in the waiting room for?
Did the appointment itself take long?
Does the vaccine hurt?
How did they feel afterwards?
There have been plenty of memes and videos out there making light of the vaccine, pretending it’s going to give them 5G connectivity, a direct link to our reptilian overlords, or simply make us colossally ill.
While there will be memes about pretty much everything - especially for a topic like this, where people are understandably scared of the unknown - it’s important not to let it get to you.
I know I’ve been a little scared of the concept of getting vaccinated, and I can’t deny that it all feels very dystopian to line up for mass inoculation.
Who knows what the future holds; whether we’ll be getting ‘Covid passports’ to confirm we’ve been jabbed so we can travel abroad?
But what I do know - like the rest of us - is that the world has already been changed beyond recognition in the past year.
Anything that goes towards bringing society back to normal is good, in my book.
So, less than 24 hours after receiving my appointment invitation, I was at my local GP surgery.
There was a neat little queue of around 3 or 4 people (socially distanced, of course) and two people near the entrance. One of them had a clipboard.
I was asked to state my name and appointment time, before going to the entrance and being given a dose of hand sanitizer by a friendly young man.
I was expecting to have to take a seat for 15-20 minutes - I was 10 minutes early, and as most of us know, GP appointments often run over.
However, I was immediately ushered down the corridor and allocated to Room 4 (kind of like when you’re called up to a checkout till at TK Maxx).
There was a woman at the desk on her computer and a man stood up in an apron. My partner was with me, and he asked about what the procedure was for key workers (he has not been invited for a vaccine himself yet).
He was told that employers of key workers can apply to have employees vaccinated at their local vaccination centre, so hopefully that will become the case soon.
As for me, I asked the woman about how I’d been contacted so early in the mass rollout and she said I was in priority group 6 - people whom the GP has classed as clinically vulnerable.
I’m not going to share why I fall under that category, but I will share that my GP is Oakley Health Group, which was one of the first to be given access to the vaccines from what I remember.
The woman told me that, after vaccinating the people in the higher priority groups, they had some leftover doses, so decided to move to the next group and get them booked in.
I sat down and the man proceeded to ask me some questions. They went as follows:
Are you well today?
Do you have a fever?
Do you have any symptoms of coronavirus?
Have you ever had a severe allergic reaction to medicines, vaccines or food?
Have you ever been prescribed an Epipen?
Have you taken part in any trials of coronavirus?
Have you had any injections in the last seven days?
Any chance you’re pregnant or breastfeeding?
Do you take any anti-coagulant blood-thinning medicines?
Do you have any bleeding disorders?
Have you had any special treatments from the hospital or medicines that would affect your immune system?
Would you like the vaccine today?
He then asked if I’m left or right handed, so he could pick the best arm for the vaccine. (I’m left handed, so he administered the vaccine to my right arm).
He told me to be aware of the following side effects:
Around a third of people have some soreness or a stiff arm
Some people report an upset stomach
Some are shivering, shaking, feeling tired, having muscle aches or flu-like symptoms
Some are experiencing headaches
Side effects won’t necessarily happen, but if they do - treat it as proof the immune system has recognised the foreign body and is working to fight it off
The actual vaccine itself took a matter of seconds to administer. Under five seconds, I’d imagine. It didn’t hurt at all - it felt like I was scratching my arm with a fingernail briefly.
The man then leant on me with a cotton swab for a few seconds to ‘reduce any bruising and make sure you don’t leak’.
He advised that if I experienced any pain, I should take some Paracetamol. He also reassured me that such symptoms shouldn’t last for more than a day or two at the most.
I was then given a card with the vaccine type, batch number and the date of vaccination (this information is also computerised, so don’t worry if you lose yours!).
The information on this card is used to match up details for the second vaccine, which will be in 12 weeks.
I have not been given the opportunity to book in an appointment for the second vaccine, but I imagine I will receive another text when it's time.
I was also given a leaflet with further information about the vaccine. You can read the digital version here.
Here are three more details you should know.
The vaccine type I received is Oxford-AstraZeneca. 100 million doses of this vaccine type have been ordered in the UK. The other types are Valneva, GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax, Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen and Moderna. You can read more on the BBC website.
I have mild allergic reactions to penicillin, bee/wasp stings and garlic. By mild I mean that I get either a small rash on my back or slight swelling on my lips and inside my mouth. I don’t get any pain or other symptoms; it just looks bad. I took the vaccine and, a few days later, I am feeling fine. However, if you have any concerns about whether your own allergies may impact your experience with the vaccine, please speak with your doctor first.
The information I’ve given doesn’t necessarily reflect how your own experience will be. I just hope that it gives some peace of mind for those who may be experiencing anxiety as they wait for their turn to get the vaccine.
I will be posting more about my experience with this vaccine, including any side-effects I experience, how I dealt with them, and my next vaccine in a few months. Please go to this page and sign up for email updates if you would like them.