Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece written based on one writer's experience, and shouldn't be used to make any health-related decisions. Please refer to the Department of Health for information and guidance around COVID-19 vaccines.
Finding out I was eligible for phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccine was a strange tornado of thoughts and feelings. One was shock, as I had mentally prepared myself not to be able to get it for months. Second was hesitation, thinking that if I booked a spot for myself I'd be "taking" the spot of someone else who might need it more. But, more than anything, I thought to myself, "what the fuck am I waiting for?"
Getting into an appointment for my vaccination was not easy. I rang three local clinics that were administering it, and the first two said they hadn't even received any doses yet so they therefore had no clue when they'd be able to take appointments. Considering the government's near disastrous roll out of the vaccine, this isn't all that surprising. But, on clinic #3, I managed to book in and the date and time were set – 9am, Tuesday, 6th April. Unbelievable that this was only just over a year out from the beginning of the pandemic. Science is amazing et al.
The vaccine appointment is pretty straightforward. You're to arrive 15 minutes early and fill out a quick form about the vaccination, before you're ushered into a room where the nurse will administer that sweet, sweet anti-COVID juice. In my case, I asked the nurse what I'd be receiving and she promptly said, "AstraZeneca." She went on to say it would be unlikely the majority of Australians would receive anything else, due to both the government's vaccine orders and the fact that it's far easier to store AstraZeneca safely. She stuck the needle in my arm, I took a photo (nurse: "should I pull a face?") and I didn't feel a thing. Like, literally not even a pinch. I was to wait in the waiting room for 15 minutes to keep lookout for any immediate side effects, and then I was back on my way.
Now, you are given a document that lists all the side effects you could experience in the day or two following the jab. It includes muscle aches, pain at the site of injection, flu-like symptoms, nausea, fatigue and then some. The document stresses that in 99% of cases, these symptoms are mild and will go away on their own within a day or two. On Tuesday evening, I started to feel way more tired than usual but I put that down to me having a poor sleep the night before. But, in reality, I had not known poor sleep until that night.
I was waking up every 15 minutes, as if on cue. I'd check the time, be annoyed that I hadn't got much sleep, take a drink of water and go back to bed. On and on the cycle went, and worse and worse my body felt. By the time the sun had risen on Wednesday morning, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Both my knees were aching terribly to the point where I struggled to walk, I had a headache from hell itself and I had a nasty, 38.8 degree fever. I was laying in a pool of my own sweat – which is foul – but I was too ill to really move. I messaged my boss at 5:30am saying that there is no way I'd be able to make it in that day, and tried my hardest to get back to sleep despite the excruciating pain.
So, fair to say while most post-vaccination symptoms are normal and a sign that it's working, to say they're 'mild' felt like a bit of a lie.
By 1pm that day, I'd been able to get an hour straight of sleep (!) and my fever had broken, making me feel considerably better. By Thursday morning, I was feeling completely back to normal. Was the past day a literal fever dream? Maybe! But that didn't matter, because I was feeling healthy and vaccinated and –
Hmm, good. Two days after I received the AstraZeneca jab, I had been informed that I could now be at risk of blood clots and the vaccine wouldn't be indicated for anyone in my age group in the future. Sure, the odds of clotting are still astronomically low, but the alarmism from the government and the internet sent me into a hypochondriatic spiral. Immediately, I began looking up any and all blood clot symptoms as I tried to stave off a panic attack. Some people said I was overreacting, which is valid but certainly unhelpful. In fact, so much of the conversation around the events of Thursday evening was helpful.
First, obviously Scott Morrison and the federal government should not have put all their eggs in one basket as far as vaccination providers. Not because of side effects, but because that's just poor business when you've got more than 26 million people relying on a dose that they can theoretically receive from multiple providers. But it became clear to me that, if there were any cases of clotting from the AZ vaccine, it would be used as nothing more than political point scoring – a way to dunk on the LNP. (As if they hadn't been dunking on themselves for literal years at this point.) If someone had passed away, god forbid, it would be even worse, reducing this human life to either a statistical anomaly by the LNP or further proof of the LNP's incompetency.
Secondly, alarmism over a side effect that has a 11-in-a-million chance of happening, according to BBC, isn't helpful either. Calling the vaccine "bad" is not only scary but untrue and incredibly short-sighted, considering that Pfizer – what we've deemed as the holier alternative – has just been found to have far weaker efficacy against the South African variant, to the point where the variant can break through the vaccine. Each vaccine comes with potential side effects, but as the TGA explains, no vaccine is risk free; for the vast majority of cases the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh the risks.
In any case, I've received multiple messages asking me what vaccine I received, me telling them AstraZeneca, and getting a response like "nooooo!" or "damn that sucks, I'm sorry!" This is literal fear-mongering and nothing more. Are you saying the same thing to your friends being prescribed the pill, which comes with a greater risk of blood clots? What about your friends getting behind the wheel of a car? No, of course you're not. The internet conversation around AstraZeneca has skewed it to be "a bad vaccine" when in reality... it's simply not that. Sure, more information might come out later, but as of right now, we have very little reason for concern. In fact, we have 0.0011 reasons for concern.
Now, this isn't to say that scepticism around receiving the AZ jab isn't valid. Of course it is, as is criticism of the government's handling of the situation. In fact, it could be argued that Scott Morrison has instilled fear in vaccines in general – something we certainly do not need. But let's not go online spreading fear where it isn't necessary and especially where it isn't helpful. Plenty of young people received the AZ vaccine before the damning news, and we deserve to feel as safe and secure as everyone else.