You'll be okay from the first dose, they said. It's the second dose that will really get you, they said. But does this really apply to everyone?
Full disclosure, at the time this was written and published, I've only received my first dose. This piece has since been updated with my second dose journey.
I'm a July baby, and for my birthday this year, all I wanted for a present was to get vaccinated. So when the Singapore government announced that my age group can register for the vaccine from 11 June, I was beyond ecstatic.
And then I realised, I had no idea what to expect. Other than the nuggets of information my 60 year old mother shared, what do I need to do in preparation for the appointment? What do I wear? Do I have to go in a fasted state? Is it going to hurt? So I decided to document the process so you don't have to go in blind.
A Little About Me
Where I live, I'm offered the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. I decided to go with Moderna simply because it's a shorter wait and slots were more available. I refuse to engage in the Pfizer vs Moderna discourse because the fact remains, both vaccines are efficient and are likely to produce lasting immunity. Regardless of the vaccine you chose, the administering process is the same, you just have to go to the right vaccination centre for the right vaccine. List of vaccination centres and the vaccine they carry here.
Now back to me. In terms of my health, I'm 28 years old, identify as female and I have a pretty small frame at 146cm. I don't smoke and I don't drink either. I don't have any pre-existing conditions and am in pretty good shape (if I do say so myself).
The First Dose
Time check: 8:52AM
Upon arriving the vaccination centre, the ushers immediately greeted me at the entrance and asked me to check-in via TraceTogether (TT). They also encouraged me to sanitise my hands. Then, they directed me to a registration booth where you'll have to present your NRIC and clarify your details – expect a lot of plastic partitions or plastic shield masks, it was almost like a scene from a sci-fi film.
Time check: 8:55AM
Usually once verification is done, you'll be seated to wait for your turn to receive your dose. But my centre was relatively empty (also nobody gets up that early on a Saturday morning) so I was ushered straight into the vaccination booth. Through out this entire process, my journey was smooth with ushers signalling where to go next every step of the way.
Time check: 8:56AM
In just 4 minutes, I'm in the vaccination booth. Even though I'm not afraid of needles, I start to sweat out of nervousness. My healthcare personnel asks me questions – Am I pregnant? Any known allergies to medication? Have I received any other vaccinations in the last two weeks? No, no, and no.
She goes on a spiel on some after care – no strenuous exercise for 7 days, in case of rash immediately go to the doctor, persistent fever after 2 days immediately go to the doctor. Potential side effects – muscle aches, fever and fatigue, all of which I was boldly confident would not apply to me because everyone who received their first dose before me says, "The first dose is nothing". Spoiler alert, the first dose was definitely NOT nothing.
Time check: 8:57AM
She sanitises her hands, grabs hold of the syringe, removes the needle cap and soothingly tells me to take a deep breath.
Because the needle is so thin, I barely felt anything throughout the 5 seconds. If you're afraid of needles, this should calm you a little! Once she was done, she placed a band-aid over the injection site and just like that, I received my first dose – all before 9AM! Talk about efficiency.
Time check: 8:58AM-9:28AM
For the next 30 minutes, you'll have to be under observation in case you show any allergy symptoms or reactions to the vaccine. I was ushered to the seating area where I was handed a bottle of water and was told to chill out.
Once my thirty minutes was up (I showed no symptoms or reactions), I walked home with my vaccination card.
If you're waiting for your first dose, here's the biggest take away on things to do or bring before your appointment:
- Bring your identity card (IC)
- Bring your mobile phone or TT token for check-in purposes
- Bring something to entertain you during observation (book or headphones)
- Have a meal before you go (you don't have to be in a fasted state)
- Wear comfy clothing and bring an outer in case it gets cold
- If you're prone to side effects, book a ride home and avoid public transport
- Also if you're prone to side effects, visit your panel clinic after and get an MC to take the day off
My friends in the healthcare sector advised me to take a paracetamol after the first dose, just in case. Others have also informed me that they were not allowed to consume alcohol for a week, and some also received a pamphlet with more in-depth details on after care.
3 Hours Post Shot, Time Check: 12PM
Still feeling confident that I was immune to the side effects, I went about my Saturday morning the same way I normally would. I had some tea, ate some snacks, watched TV and did some vacuuming and other household chores. I did take paracetamol once I got home, with much persuasion from my friends.
But once I hit the 3 hour mark, the side effects burst my bubble. The injection site felt warm to the touch and got even warmer over a span of 30 minutes, so I decided to ice it. Then the muscle ache began, but thankfully it was only at the injection site.
It was all manageable and not at all affecting my quality of life, so I didn't think much of it.
13 Hours Post Shot, Time Check: 1oPM
In the next 10 hours, I watched a film, went grocery shopping and cooked. This entire time, I only felt the muscle ache at the injection site. No fever, fatigue or any of that.
But once it hit 10PM, I started to feel light headed. I was playing Taboo with my family (for real my family and I play board games) and I realised my body temperature started to increase. My lymph-nodes also started to swell, my eyes were bloodshot and teary, and my entire body was aching. It felt like I was in a state of delirium where I felt light and warm, as if I had been without sleep for a few days.
At this point my temperature was at 37.7 degrees celsius (my baseline is usually 36 degrees celsius), so I took another dose of paracetamol to subside the fever symptoms and went to sleep hoping to feel better in the morning.
24 Hours Post Shot, Time Check: 10AM
My sleep was relatively undisturbed. I managed to go into deep sleep, and woke up no more than twice. During these midnight wakes though, I was extremely parched and fatigued. I had to drag myself out of bed to chug down a glass of water.
The next morning, I was mindful of sudden movements and got out of bed slowly and consciously. I stood up, and waited a moment. No light headedness. So far so good. I walked to my bathroom and brushed my teeth. Still going strong. Checked my lymph-nodes, and the swelling seem to have significantly subsided.
By the time I was done with breakfast, I felt almost 100%, with the only side effects left being the muscle ache at the injection site and fatigue, which only went away the next day.
The Second Dose
Welcome back. If you’re here, you’re probably waiting for your second dose or you’re waiting for the symptoms of your second dose to kick in.
Since my first dose though, I’ve heard a lot more claims from friends around the differences between the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine versus the Moderna vaccine. The consensus is that:
- Moderna vaccine folks faced harsher side effects
- Pfizer vaccine folks barely felt any side effects
Of course, this wouldn’t be the case for every person, so remember to listen to your body and do what’s best for you. In my case, my body needed some serious TLC.
Time Check: 2:26PM
I decided to get my second dose on a Thursday afternoon at the 2:30pm slot. Now I know you’re thinking, “why would you set a vaccination appointment in the middle of the workday?” Folks, I did my due diligence and gave my team a heads up that I might not be well enough to work the next day, plus I figured the Friday and the weekend would be enough for me to recover.
As usual, the station and the staff were extremely efficient and professional. I was in and out of the booth and into the observation area in 5 minutes.
The injection this time however, definitely stung a little. But it’s definitely nothing that you can’t handle! It honestly was just a little prick.
Time Check: 2:38PM
Since it was a workday, I brought my laptop with me and continued working during my observation period.
I also walked away with a freebie this time! Although I have seen others receive free disposable masks as well as hand sanitisers.
4 Hours Post Shot, Time Check 6:30PM
I continued my work day as usual with the only symptom being just light aching at the injection site. It was not at all a disruption and sometimes felt like it was barely there.
13 Hours Post Shot, Time Check 3:30AM
I went to bed close to midnight that night feeling completely fine. I’m not sure if sleeping or resting speeds up your body’s reaction to the vaccine, but I experienced my first symptom almost exactly 13 hours later in the middle of the night.
I woke up shivering under my duvet with a massive headache. At first I tried to go back to sleep but my body was running a temperature and I had to take something for the bludgeoning headache.
I forced myself to get out of bed and at this point, it felt like the worst fever of my life. Every step I took hurt and I felt it the most in my joints and bones.
Once I took some medication and had some water, I went back into bed with an additional blanket on top of my duvet. Every waking moment was me being acutely aware of everything that I was feeling in my body – my teeth chattering, the pressure behind my eyes, and the aching in my joints from my fingers to my toes.
18 Hours Post Shot, Time Check: 8:30AM
Thankfully, I did eventually drift off to sleep. Waking up the next morning though, it was as if I was walking on clouds (not in a good way). The aches persisted, the fever persisted, and another symptom to add to the list, was major dehydration.
I really wish I have more to say, but all I did the morning after was go to the doctor to get my MC, had a small bite of breakfast, and then went straight back to bed.
Top tip: Have a jug of water (or two) by your bedside table. If you start to notice the same symptoms as I did, you won’t have to go through the trouble of getting out of bed to quench your thirst.
48 Hours Post Shot, Time Check: 2:30PM
I was almost back to my good ol’ self. The fever and the aching were gone, and what remained was the aching on the injection site as well as fatigue that was almost unbeatable.
1 Week Post Shot, Time Check: 8:00PM
For the next 7 days, the aching wore off and my energy level was slowly returning to normal. Just when I thought I was in the clear, I noticed another symptom that I’ve only ever heard from a handful of people.
But before that, let’s be clear that I haven’t worked out since the day I received my second dose, as advised by MOH. I was basically careful to not elevate my heart rate for fear of any cardiac arrest related issues. In fact, the recommended time frame to stay away from physical activities was 2 weeks.
So there I was, a week after the second dose, standing in my kitchen chopping up red bell peppers when I started to feel restless and anxious. I thought it was just my mind wandering, but as I continued, the feeling in my chest creeped up my throat. My heart rate was increasing for no reason and I eventually came to the realisation that I was experiencing heart palpitations.
This lasted for about 2 minutes in total. Out of all the symptoms, this was probably the most nerve-wracking one. If you ever experience this as well, rule number 1 is to stay calm. Know that this is a side effect and that it will fade.
2 Weeks Post Shot
After that first incident, the heart palpitations continued 3 more times within the second week and at random moments. They all lasted not more than 2 minutes.
It was on National Day, 9 Aug, around 18 days later did I notice that the heart palpitations had completely stopped. Throughout the second week, I was also staying away from caffeine to avoid any triggers.
What can you do to be prepared for your vaccination journey?
Here are my biggest takeaways:
- Plan for the second dose – Be strategic about when you get your second dose and take into consideration the down time
- Take it easy for at least 2 weeks – My heart palpitations only started a week post the second dose
- Fatigue will stick around – Take a couple of days off from work to recuperate
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Personally, I believe in modern medicine and highly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. So get out there and get inoculated!