For the past nine months, I, like everyone else, was anxiously awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization of an effective COVID-19 vaccine. FDA authorization is not some foreign concept to a lot of us with CF, as we have waited eagerly for the last five years each time a new cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) modulator was up for review. We cheered, cried, and breathed a huge sigh of relief each time a new CFTR modulator was approved.
For me, the Emergency Use Authorization of two COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020 gave me the same sense of relief as the approval of a new CF treatment. Since May, I have been working at my local health department, first as a COVID-19 case investigator, and now as the COVID-19 epidemiologist. I have worked countless hours and shed countless tears over the situation in my area and what much of the country has experienced this past year.
But with the authorization of two vaccines, the tears of exhaustion turned to tears of joy.
When it became clear that there was going to be at least one vaccine by the end of 2020, I reached out to my CF care team to ask them two questions: Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine? If yes, which one should I get? My CF doctor responded quickly with, “Whichever one you can get first.”
I was fortunate to be able to receive my first dose of the Moderna vaccine on December 23, 2020 because of my role at the health department. I cried tears of relief as I sat in that chair to receive the injection. A light broke through all the darkness of the last year when that needle went into my arm, and I was able to fully exhale. Over the next two days the only side effect I reported was a sore arm -- a very sore arm. But it was worth it.
Then in January I received the second dose around 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. After waiting for 15 minutes, I went back to work. That evening, I fell asleep on my couch and when I woke around 10 p.m., I had some chills and body aches, but I just crawled into bed and didn't think much of it. I awoke at 3 a.m. with a fever over 102 degrees, chattering teeth, more body aches, and rigors. I experienced these symptoms for about 36 hours, until around 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, when my fever broke. Throughout the day on Thursday, I rested, making sure I stayed hydrated and my fever didn't return. I was back at work Friday morning.
I am not going to try to underplay the symptoms I had. I told my husband that if I couldn't have pinpointed the reason for these symptoms (the vaccine), I would have been calling my pulmonologist and begging to be admitted to the hospital. I also couldn't help but think, “If this was COVID and not the vaccine, I would be terrified right now.” Some people may read these symptoms and think that they shouldn't get the vaccine.
No one likes feeling crummy, but I am thankful that my immune system was strongly responding the way it is supposed to!
As I reflect on the past year, I am astonished at how quickly science has moved to develop these vaccines -- within a year -- but I shouldn't be. The scientific community has developed several new lifesaving drugs for people with CF recently, but this year the whole world got to experience the benefit.
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