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I Got the COVID Booster Shot

My immune system isn’t as strong as other people’s because of my history of radiation for cancer treatment. I hang out with my young niece and nephew almost every day, and without fail, I get sick whenever one of them has a cold. So I was immensely relieved when I reached full inoculation after the first two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. But after breakthrough cases started rising this summer, my anxiety increased, even though fully vaccinated people rarely get sick enough to end up in the hospital or have seriously adverse outcomes.

In my reporting, I’ve talked to COVID long-haulers who have debilitating brain fog or extreme exhaustion. A few weeks ago, in a panic, I texted one of my best friends who is also chronically ill. Was she as worried about catching the Delta variant as I was? How could we put additional symptoms on our already long lists? “I cannot handle any more brain fog on top of the brain fog I have,” I said. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I don’t know, realistically, if I can take another bout of being sick from something new.”

As of August 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that people who are “moderately to severely immunocompromised” get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at least four weeks after they receive their second dose. The Biden administration has said it would recommend a third shot for the general population eight months after a second dose, but that guidance still needs to be approved by the FDA and officially recommended by the CDC, both of which are tasked with reviewing somewhat limited data on the vaccine’s effectiveness over time.

Given my health history and eligibility for a third shot, I jumped into action and secured an appointment for August 22. Getting an appointment for the booster was starkly different than getting an appointment for the original shot. The first time, I spent hours combing through the websites of different pharmacies to find an open appointment. For the booster, I casually chose a Sunday afternoon after looking through my options for five minutes.

Still, I felt more anxious leading up to my booster than I did with the two original shots. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of my anxiety: Part of it was shame that I needed a booster shot in the first place (hi, ableism); part was that I only knew one other person who had gotten the booster; and part was worry over how my body would react. That anxiety wasn’t soothed when I showed up for my booster and the pharmacist said she didn’t know what to tell me to expect because I was the first person she had ever given the booster to.

After years of chronic illness, I don’t flinch at needles, so the actual vaccination was easy. I waited in the pharmacy for the required 15 minutes to assess possible side effects, and then went home. By the time I went to sleep on Sunday night, I felt overly lethargic and a little achy. I slept fitfully. I’d pull on a sweatshirt because I felt cold, then strip it off with all my blankets because I felt hot. I woke up in the morning feeling like I was experiencing the beginning of a flu, symptoms which are par for the course with COVID vaccinations. My body was still achy, my head hurt, and the chills I had through the night persisted. 

I worked for a few hours, then fell headfirst into a three-hour nap. When I woke up, my flulike symptoms were slightly worse. Fortunately, my sister had made her famous homemade chicken noodle soup, which was the only thing I ate that day and the next. I went to sleep early on Monday night, and when I woke up on Tuesday I felt better. The body aches and chills had subsided. All that was left was a vaguely hungover feeling — I was tired and my head hurt but I could function. By Tuesday afternoon, I felt almost back to normal. By Wednesday, except for slight soreness where I’d received the shot, I didn’t feel a thing.

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