The 2nd dose of the Covid-19 vaccine has come with no airs and graces. Worldwide, there are reports of the 2nd dose executing extreme immune responses in some people, ranging from severe headaches and nausea to ringing in the ears and more. We spoke to a healthcare worker who wished to remain anonymous; here is her account of her experience with the 2nd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, followed by some clarity on why the body elicits such a reaction.
“I got my 2nd dose yesterday. Everything was fine; I got in pretty quick, and the nurses were amazing. It was almost like a high-five when I got there; the positivity was electric. Everyone seemed happy. Got my shot and went home.
Twelve hours later, I started to feel weird; an onset of flu-like symptoms started. Thirty minutes later, I felt like I was about to die. The nausea was crazy, but I couldn’t throw up…kind of like that really bad hangover you get where you know you need to throw up, but can’t. It was that x10.
I almost can’t even describe the feeling of everything. My temperature went through the roof and my ears were ringing. About an hour later, my body started shaking. This is where I would say I was at my lowest point. I began to cry. I knew that this was all a normal reaction, but it didn’t help things. Again, kind of like the worst hangover you’ve ever felt, knowing you can’t really go to the hospital because this is normal. I curled into the fetal position and started rocking myself. I honestly don’t know what was going through my head, but I started crying out for my mom. My mom died when I was nine years old.
I just feel this unbelievably powerful connection to the vaccine now. I can all of a sudden understand it better; I can feel it working. Once I felt it in my body, I know it sounds crazy, but yes, it was physically difficult last night, but I also realize there is an emotional connection to this process and finally getting it is releasing a lot of that emotion. It was difficult, yet also feels like a weight lifted off my back.
I finally took a sleeping aid and I passed out. I cried this morning of joy, after a year of living life constantly in limbo with so many unanswered questions; it’s a bit of a relief to have a feeling that I’ve (we’ve) turned that corner toward living life one day soon as it used to be.
I haven’t left my bed and I don’t plan to all day. But let me tell you, would I do it again? Hell yes. The alternative is worse”.
Why Is the Second Dose So Much Worse?
Their experience isn’t unique. Millions of providers and patients are waking up to the reality of their second dose. Even if you didn’t have any side effects after the first shot, you will likely feel something the second time around.
Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, went through something similar after he got his second dose. He suffered five hours of shaking chills, fever up to 101 degrees, severe headache, nausea, ringing in his ears and a sore arm after getting his second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
However, Poland says there’s no reason to worry. The second dose is usually more intense because it amplifies the effects of the first dose.
“We should stress it doesn’t mean that anything’s going wrong or that something bad is happening. It is an expected reaction to the vaccine, and it will be different between different people,” Poland said.
The vaccine teaches the body how to protect itself against the virus by sending “instructions” on how to defeat the real thing. It does not contain the virus.
“It is evidence of a really vigorous immune response, which doesn’t mean that people who have less of a response are not developing an immune response. They are,” Poland added. “But for some of us, for whatever reason, our immune system sees this and really reacts to it.”
He says by the time you get your second dose, your body will have already lined up immune defenses against COVID-19. Thus, your immune system will likely have a much stronger reaction to the second dose.
“When you get that first dose, consider it a training dose. You’re training your body to recognize that this is a foreign invader and it looks like coronavirus,” Poland added. “Now what happens? You get a second dose, and your immune system is shouting through that megaphone to say, ‘OK, the foreign invader is here! It’s here! It’s here! Kill it!'”
He says our bodies will likely go through something similar when we get the booster shot for the coronavirus variants. Both Pfizer and Moderna say they are working on a third shot for the vaccine that would make it more effective against both the U.K. strain and the one first discovered in South Africa. Just like the second dose, this shot would piggyback off of your body’s existing immunological response.
There’s no reason to worry about the side effects that come with the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Be prepared to experience some fatigue, lightheadedness, headache, and fever. You might want to take the day off work or have someone drive you home from your appointment.