ICU Doc on Vaccine Side Effects: She’d Do It Again
Jan 13, 2021
Gary Zavoral
Doctor getting vaccination from nurse

A Northern California ICU physician who was one of the first in the region to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine documented her vaccination journey and concluded that, while she experienced some temporary flu-like symptoms, she would do it again and encourages everyone to get the vaccine when it becomes available to them.

Dr. Vanessa Walker, a pulmonologist, received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 4 and, in a YouTube vlog, explained that the side effects were more pronounced than with the first dose, but overall was overjoyed that she is now vaccinated and enthusiastically gives it a thumbs up.

“The main point I want to make is that I would do this over and over and over again to ensure that I don’t get COVID and pass it along to my family, my friends or my patients,” she says. “Pledge to take it when it becomes available to you, because it really, truly is the kindest thing you can do for the community, for society, and it really is the only path forward for getting back to normal.”

Dr. Walker is on the frontlines of the pandemic, treating COVID patients and others in the intensive care unit at Sutter Roseville Medical Center and as medical director of the Sutter Valley Area electronic ICU, which assists community hospitals throughout Northern California care for critical patients, keeping them in their hometowns and helping to alleviate capacity issues at larger medical centers. She notes that the first dose of the vaccine does give at least 51% protection, but you need a second dose to reach 95% protection against COVID-19, as studies have shown.

“The thought that I’ll be able to go home and kiss my kids and my husband and just feel secure that I’m not bringing home a virus to them is just such a weight off my chest,” Dr. Walker said.

California health systems have been vaccinating their healthcare workers for a month and are now preparing to vaccinate residents 75 years and older, under the state’s guidelines. Dr. Walker produced the vlogs to inform residents about any side effects she experienced and to let them know that they are very minor compared to what she is seeing with patients in the hospital.

After the her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Dr. Walker had very few side effects. She reported in the first installment of her vaccination vlog, which also can be viewed on YouTube, that the first evening she was feeling fine, and even her daughter noticed that there wasn’t even a bump on her arm from the injection.

Woman with two kids

Dr. Walker’s two children make an appearance in her vlog. “The thought that I’ll be able to go home and kiss my kids and my husband and just feel secure that I’m not bringing home a virus to them is just such a weight off my chest,” she says.

Then, right before going to bed that night, she says, “I’m feeling a little tiny bit fatigued in my muscles and some of my joints.” At 24 hours after that first shot, she reports that she’s feeling “totally normal.”

She did remark during that first vlog that she expected more noticeable side effects for the second dose, as was reported during the vaccine’s studies. Sure enough, 21 days later, she is visibly feeling the effects of that second dose.

First, about 10 hours later after coming home from work, she reports in her vlog that her arm was sore from the shot and that she needed help taking off her scrub top. Then, 24 hours post-shot, she says: “I feel really fatigued. Muscle aches all over. Last night I felt feverish, chills, had a hard time sleeping.” She took some ibuprofen to help with those flu-like symptoms.

“The important thing about all those symptoms is that means my immune system is doing its job,” she says. “It is creating a reaction in my body so that … if I do come in contact with the actual (COVID-19) virus, my body will be ready to fight it. So I’m taking comfort in the fact that, I don’t feel great, but it’s because my body is getting ready to fight COVID.”

At the 32-hour mark, she is tired and looking a little sick. “I’m not going to lie. I kind of feel terrible. … I feel like I have the flu but without any kind of upper respiratory symptoms.”

Fast forward in the video to 48 hours after receiving the second dose, and Dr. Walker is back to her usual self.

Upbeat and full of energy, she says, “When you have the opportunity to get this vaccine, seize it, and let’s get back to living (normally) again.”

For more information on the vaccinations, visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Resources page. Always check with your doctor to decide what is best for you.

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