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Why we are feeling so emotional after having the COVID jab

Two Australian Red Cross aid workers take a moment after getting their first jab.

Health Technical Lead Lisa Natoli and Red Cross communications delegate Susan Cullinan – just back from working in Covid-ravaged Europe – share these emails after the long-awaited moment.

Lisa: You caught me on a weird day. I’ve just had my vaccine this morning and am feeling very emotional about the whole thing! This is not the reaction I expected - but it’s been a pretty big year or so, and there’s a lot to reflect on. 

I’m thinking about all those people that have had the most awful, alone deaths or are sick now, the medical miracle of developing vaccines in record time - and me being lucky enough to be born in a place where we’ve effectively controlled the virus and can get on with life.

Susan: Wow that is amazing Lisa. I have just had my first COVID jab today and am also feeling very emotional!

I’m stunned at how easy it was. It took me two minutes to book, and the shot was administered by an experienced nurse who’d had eight hours of specialised training in administering the vaccines, and who very carefully explained to me the process, and all the possible side effects. 

And it was all free! After living in a country where the virus was out of control and growing exponentially, and where my peers and friends routinely became sick with COVID, this was the day I was longing for.

Lisa: Yeah me too.  My husband and siblings are all a lot older than me, and I would be devastated if I got Coroavirus and gave it to them. I can’t imagine how worried I would be if I still had elderly parents to care for….Having said that, it’s not entirely clear if the vaccine protects against onward transmission,  but evidence to date points to a reduction in  risk. Either way, its important we all keep taking prevention measures (like handwashing and wearing a mask when we can’t physically distance) regardless of whether we’re vaccinated or not.

I’ve also got a teenage son, and don’t want risk serious illness and leaving him without a mum. On a personal level, I used to be an ICU nurse and know what it’s like for people struggling to breathe and needing a ventilator…..that’s something I don’t want to think about. 

Susan: Were you at all worried about getting the vaccine?

Lisa: I would be lying to say I haven’t thought about the really rare side effects….. But as someone who took the pill for years, has been pregnant, and has clocked up many long haul flights, I know I’ve probably faced a higher risk of blood clots (albeit of a different kind) before now. I also know that serious clotting problems are much more common from COVID itself, than from the vaccine. 

Susan: Yes! Vaccine hesitancy is high in many parts of the world, even among educated people and health professionals! Vaccine acceptance is often higher for countries facing the greatest risks. That makes sense doesn’t it? If you’ve lived and breathed the impact you’re going to want to protect yourself and your community.

Lisa: That has been true in some countries around the world but not all. Some of the countries that I work with are having huge challenges with hesitancy. It’s not surprising though…. these vaccines have been developed faster than any other vaccine in history. People are wondering how this is possible and whether the vaccines are safe. 

Susan: So how do you reassure them about this stuff?

Lisa: Like anything to do with medicine, it boils down to sharing factual information, cutting through the myths and misinformation, and helping people weigh up the benefits with the risks - so they can make an informed decision. Personally, this is a bit easier for me, as I used to work in clinical trials. I understand the steps involved in bringing a new vaccine to the market, and the rigorous approval processes. 

As far as reassuring people about the speed of vaccine development, scientists prioritised COVID vaccine development because of the global emergency. They have achieved something incredible because they pooled their resources and research and worked together. Also, the technologies used to develop vaccines didn’t happen overnight – they have been working towards this for many years, building on work that was done with similar viruses in previous pandemics. 

Susan: It’s hard to really know just how contagious this thing is unless you’ve been living among it. I saw people who were taking good precautions still catch it.And looking at the new variants I fear we could well see the worse to come.

Lisa: Yeah, I’ve been worrying about whether there will be another wave of infection this winter and wanted to get the first dose as soon as I could. It is so unpredictable how coronavirus affects people. I’m fit and healthy, but you never know. I also feel like we owe to each other to do our bit. Apart from keeping up all the other prevention measures, vaccines are our door back to normality.

Susan: How are you feeling now….it’s been a good couple of hours after your shot?

Lisa: Hmmmmm to be honest I’m feeling a bit headachy and nauseous and I’m starting to feel really cold. I know these are common side effects though, and it’s kind of reassuring that something is going on and my immune system is kicking into action. Funnily enough, my arm doesn’t hurt at all!

Susan: Gah! I’m feeling a bit ordinary too and feel the need to curl up under the doona. But honestly my overwhelming feeling is one of guilty privilege that I get to do my bit to make Australia more resilient when so many others haven’t yet had that opportunity. 

Post script: Both Lisa and Susan reported feeling rotten later that evening, but that they were back to normal within 24 hours.