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COVID-19 vaccine experience comes with side effects of hope, joy

News 8 Digital Content Producer and first-time mom Jen Lothspeich shares experience of receiving vaccine in hopes son will soon meet grandparents, great-grandparents
Credit: Jen Lothspeich


Update April 28, 2021: 

As I near my “fully vaccinated” status this week, I wanted to share the rest of my COVID-19 vaccination experience by updating this story. I received my second Pfizer shot on April 15 at the same Walgreens location as my first.  

The experience was very much the same - checking in at the pharmacy and filling out a quick form. I chose for the shot itself to be administered in the same arm as my last shot – my right since I tend to carry my son with my left.  

I felt less anxious while waiting at the pharmacy although I was a little worried about what might await me later in the day. I took the day off from work just in case I suffered strong side effects. My husband also got his second dose that day and I didn’t want him to be stuck caring for our nearly 5-month-old alone if he was knocked out by any flu-like symptoms I'd heard described by others.  

I personally had heard mostly positive accounts of experiences following second Pfizer doses up to that point. I had known several people hit hard by their second Moderna shot then in the past couple weeks I have now heard more from people with side effects from Pfizer. It really seems to me that there’s no predicting how your body will react so it’s best to be prepared. 

I tried hard to hydrate well the day before my second shot and chose a healthy lunch afterward thinking maybe that would help but of course, I have no way of knowing if it did.  

As with my first dose, my arm started to feel sore about four hours after I got the shot. I also started to get pretty tired but my husband and I switched off so we could each nap for about two hours and that helped a lot. It was hard to tell if the fatigue was from the immunization or from having a baby that likes to babble and have a party in his crib at 4 a.m. some nights.  

The soreness in my arm seemed to peak around 12 hours following the shot and the fatigue continued into the night. Each time I got up with my baby into the next morning it felt more difficult than normal and my mind felt foggiergot a vague headache around 3:30 a.m. just like with my first shot but not bad enough to take anything. 

The next two days was more of the same with a general feeling of lethargy that seemed more noticeable than the first round. By the third day, I felt like I was back to normal.  

Just as with the first shot, I continued breastfeeding my son at his normal feeding times and didn’t see any decrease in my milk supply or any reactions from him. I continue to be encouraged by the studies – though small – that suggest antibodies are passed from mother to child through breastmilk. And I continue to be excited that soon he’ll be meeting more of my friends and family without my having to agonize over our safety.  

My son also seems aware it’s almost time for these new experiences. After months of seeing my mom always in a mask, he’s started reaching to pull it down from her face. It's as if he knows it’s time for lots of cuddles and kisses from all the people who have been missing out on him.  

The night of my second shot I celebrated with a glass of wine while he cooed and played on our bed and I started telling him about all the people we'll soon get to spend quality time with. 

Backyard socially distanced hangouts got us through in the beginning but grew tiresome after several months and Zoom celebrations just don’t have the same magic as physically being with the people you love. I’m ready to enjoy long meandering conversations with friends, great big hugs from family and maybe even a date night with my husband.  

Credit: Jen Lothspeich
Toasting my second Pfizer shot with a special glass and a special boy.

Original story from March 24, 2021, appears below: 

Like many people, I’ve been some combination of anxious and excited to get my COVID-19 vaccine. On one hand, the past year has been taxing on my mental health as I remained isolated to protect myself and my loved ones and I’m ready for things to get back to “normal; on the other hand, I have been nervous at the prospect of injecting my body with something that hasn’t been proven or approved by the Food and Drug Administration

But my main reason for moving forward with the vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 is my son who I will call H to protect a bit of his privacy. At 4 months old, H has met only a handful of people – mostly from a distance – and been held by a total of five individuals including myself and my husband. This is a far cry from the showering of love and affection always dreamed of for my newborn. And I know I’m not alone in having faced disappointment in new ways the past year.  

As joyful as our news was, telling our loved onewe were expecting a baby with FaceTime, texts and video announcements wasn’t the same as seeing someone’s face light up in personOur virtual baby shower had more technical difficulties and awkward pauses than the laughter and fun of any baby shower I had been to. And when it came time to decide who would be in the delivery room, I had no real options. I was given one support person – my husband – who remained masked for the better part of the multiple days we were there.  

Credit: Dustin Lothspeich
For three days of labor it was just me and my husband - plus, of course, lots of great nurses.

So, in many ways, this was an easy decision. I want my life back and I want normalcy for my child. But in weighing the decision to get the vaccine, I still spoke to several people about the pros and cons and read article after article during late-night feedings with my ever-hungry infant.  

One of the first people I knew to get vaccinated was my cousin’s wife who also had a baby boy last year. She’s a frontline healthcare worker and used Instagram to keep people updated about her experience. The side effects for her were relatively minimal and to see a breastfeeding mother and healthcare professional go through the process helped put my mind at ease. I also spoke to my OB-GYN about it, and she gave me a resounding push to go ahead saying she would “110% recommend” I get the vaccine for myself and in the hopes of passing on antibodies to H who likely won’t be eligible for the vaccine for years to come.  

In parenting groups I participate in on Facebook, I noted the differing opinions being floated about being vaccinated while chestfeeding or breastfeeding with a lot of members wondering the same things I was. I also came across a research study the University of Washington Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology was starting called "COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy and lactation: outcomes, perceptions and behaviors," which I have later signed up to be a part of. 

Next up was waiting for my husband and myself to become eligible by the state or county guidelinesOn Monday, March 15, the eligibility in San Diego County opened wide enough to include us both. For me, it was my Body Mass Index that granted me access to the shots. The restrictions in the county starting that day included anyone with a BMI over 25 (considered overweight), or over 30 (considered obese), or over 40 (considered severely obese). I fall into the mid-range of these with a BMI of about 32. In the spirit of full disclosure about myself and my health: I am 38 years old, I’m just a shade under 5’4” and I weigh about 185 lbs. I gave birth in November 2020 and have exclusively breastfed my son for four months now. I had some mild hypertension at the end of my pregnancy but overall have been in good health especially in the last year as I prepared for his arrival with healthier eating, daily walks and a lot of meditative breathing.  

Once we knew we were going to be eligible, we started researching where to go to get our shots. I assumed our healthcare provider might be the first avenue but as I poked around (no pun intended) my provider’s website I found they recommended we start with the county. From the county’s website, I found no available appointments. With the eligibility opening, I could understand why but it was still frustrating to search location after location and be told over and over there were no available appointments for the next five days.” I thought maybe I’d get lucky during my 3 a.m. wake-up call from H that Monday morning but I didn’t 

Just a few hours later though, I got a text from a friend saying she had gotten appointments for herself and her husband on the Walgreens websiteI jumped on the site and was able to secure appointments for my husband and myself for just a few days later on Thursday, March 18. The website also prompted me to make our appointments for our second shot which we’ll be getting the second week of April.  

I have heard from several other people about similar experiences checking the websites for pharmacy chains including Rite Aid and CVS and happening upon appointment openings.  

Even after I made the appointments and saw our confirmation numbers on my phone, I didn’t believe it was really going to happen. A little over a year since having our lives changed so drastically, I couldn’t imagine something going smoothly. The confirmation screen told me I would receive an email with detailed instructions. That didn’t arrive for several hours but when it finally did, I shouted with happiness.  

The friend who told me to try Walgreens went for her shot on Tuesday, March 16, and let me know they were using the Pfizer vaccine. I was further excited by that news since I had heard positive things from several friends and moms online who had gotten that shot. My friend also clued me in to the paperwork I would need to fill out for my appointment, so I printed that ahead of time from the email I was sent and filled it out the night before. The paperwork was titled “Informed Consent for Vaccination.” It asked for basic demographic information, asked health questions about things like exposure to COVID-19, allergies, and recent vaccinations. One question asked about chronic health conditions which is where I indicated my “obesity.” The second page of the form included a place for information about medical insurance if applicable. 

On the day of our first shots, we arrived a few minutes ahead of my appointment time and went to the pharmacy area of the Walgreens on Navajo Road in La Mesa. There was a sign for COVID-19 vaccine check-ins, so we lined up accordingly. The person working took my confirmation number, ID and medical insurance card. She then took the paperwork I’d filled out, punched some things into the computer and asked me to have a seat until they called my name. I was never asked to verify my eligibility for the shot in any way in person. I was also given a fact sheet on the Pfizer vaccine (seen below) which reminded me that it is not FDA approved and is available under an emergency use authorization. 

The room for the vaccinations - called the patient health room - was adjacent to the pharmacy and after about 15 minutes a nurse called me into the room. She asked which arm I preferred for the shot and then had me sit with that arm closest to her. The shot was quick and relatively painless (relatively because I gave birth to an eight-pound baby four months ago) and that was it. She asked me to stay in the pharmacy for 15 minutes and let them know if I was having any type of adverse reaction.  

Physically, I felt fine during this waiting period; emotionally I started to feel the weight of what was happening. The thought that this little poke in my arm could mean big things for me and my family crossed my mind 

For me, the vaccine represents not only the opportunity to keep my family healthy but has also allowed me to feel hopeful about reuniting with family members and friends and have them be a part of my little one’s life without the feelings of fear that have overshadowed so many of the great moments of the past year. 

Once my husband's vaccination and waiting period were over we high-fived and left the pharmacy with our vaccination cards in hand feeling a weird sense of giddiness. This being our first time away from the baby, we also celebrated with a trip through the Carl's Jr. drive-thru. 

For the rest of the day, I was hyper-aware of how I was feeling. I started to feel tired in the afternoon and thought it may be from the shot, but it also could have been from having about five hours of sleep the night before. My arm started to get sore in the afternoon, similar to what I felt when I got the Tdap shot for whooping cough in September of last year. It felt like someone had punched me really hard in the arm. In the evening, it hurt a bit more and made ipainful if I raised my arm to shoulder height. It never hurt bad enough for me to want to take anything for it.  

Overnight I developed a slight headache around 16 hours after having the shot. Again, the pain was dull and didn’t warrant any pain relievers. 

By the morning, my headache was gone and the soreness in my arm was letting up. The next evening about 36 hours after my shot I noted that my arm soreness was barely noticeable and by 48 hours it was gone entirely.  

After my vaccination, I continued to breastfeed my son on our usual schedule – which he sets, of course – and I didn’t notice any changes in my milk supply or his ability to be satisfied. I also monitored him for any kind of reaction and didn’t see any changes in his demeanor that day or in the days that followed.  

Credit: Dustin Lothspeich
H keeping a close eye on mommy after she received her first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

I feel lucky that the process for me, so far, was easy and didn’t have any major effects physically. I have heard that the second shot can be harder on the body, so I’m prepared for that and plan to update this story with what I experience at that time in mid-April.  

Like many, I’m curious what this vaccine will actually do for my son. Recent studies – albeit limited in their scope – have found antibodies in the breastmilk of mothers who received their first dose of the COVID vaccine within a week. It’s still too early to know what that may mean long term.  

But what I’m more curious about is what this will mean for my family and the relationships that have been put on pause. As soon as I got my first shot, I sent an excited text to a group that included my mom, her sisters, one of my cousins and my grandmother. I’m not so subtly trying to push them all to get vaccinated when they can. I want my son to know these wonderful people who already love him so much. I want him to be hugged and kissed and cuddled by family besides his parents. And I don’t want him to miss out on anything more than he already has 

On a somber note, H has missed out on meeting someone who was important in my life. My paternal grandmother passed away in January when H was about nine weeks old. She had only seen pictures of him. My parents had gone for an outside visit with my grandparents around Christmas, but I was still too scared of bringing some terrible germ that would infect my Nana Jodi being that she had a lifelong heart condition and was 88 years old. And I was also scared of taking my son into the world. Up until now he still has only been to doctor’s appointments and my parents’ home.  

When I got the news, the first thing I said to my husband was “she never got to meet him.” It had been my biggest fear throughout my pregnancy and those early weeks of his life. That this pandemic would go on too long and one of my grandparents – all four were still living as of the beginning of this year – would pass away without getting to see this incredible little boy I created. I know fears like this have come true for so many families and my heart aches for them. The hope this vaccine gives me has helped assuage my trepidation because the fear of losing someone else before they meet the most important person in my life is too great.  

Editor's note: This story is not meant as an endorsement by News 8 of any COVID-19 vaccine. It reflects one person's experience with receiving the vaccination.


Credit: KFMB

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