WENATCHEE — As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, more people face the decision about getting vaccinated. Lingering questions about side effects or unforeseen consequences still worry many people regarding this new, life-saving drug.
Dr. Maria Rojas, a nephrologist with a Masters in Public Health at Confluence Health, made this choice months ago. She participated in the Pzer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trial and was one of the few in the trial in the fall that actually received the vaccine rather than the placebo.
The Wenatchee World sat down with Dr. Rojas to discuss her experience.
WW: Tell us about the circumstances that led you to be inoculated against COVID-19
Rojas: Because we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the fact that I belong to the brown community. Usually Latinx are underrepresented on the big trials, and I just felt that it was important for me to participate. We are part of a community that has a lot of problems. The health literacy could be better. I just felt maybe participating will encourage other people to receive the vaccine and have less hesitation to follow the recommendations knowing that people from the same background were part of the trial.
WW: You participated in the Pfizer trial, but was there ever any hesitation about participating?
Rojas: In my case, there is a normal fear. It is the application of a technology that was available for a new vaccine that hasn’t developed before. But you do your research, and I felt confident it wasn’t going to put my health at risk. My mom in Columbia, she was like “’are you sure this is OK?’” And I really felt, as hard as I could tell doing my own research, I just felt confident with a little bit of anxiety. That’s a pretty normal response. In general, I was really willing and confident to participate.
WW: Tell us a little bit about the experience participating in the trial and eventually nding out that you had actually received the vaccine?
Rojas: When I got the vaccine or the placebo, because I didn’t know, I was really happy when I developed the side effects. I’m like, ‘it’s gotta be the vaccine because I have a little bit of pain.’ I was actually excited, but I didn’t know. But I did an antibody test when I applied for life insurance. It came out negative, and I was like, ‘huh, I must have not gotten the vaccine.’ For a while, I was convinced that even though I have these side-effects, I must have not gotten the vaccine. But then, as soon as the FDA gave the emergency approval for the use of the vaccine, the researchers contacted me and told me, ‘guess what, you got the actual stu.’ I was really happy to hear that. I was really excited.
WW: What is the list of symptoms you experienced from the rst and second shot of the vaccine?
Rojas: The symptoms were about the same: soreness in the injection site (in the arm), I did have a little bit of chills not fever but I felt a little cold, and I had some muscle pains and some headache. In my particular case, the second dose the symptoms were a little more pronounced. I wouldn’t call it severe, but they were more, you know, intense. But again, I didn’t require any medications, or I didn’t require to be out of work for the symptoms I developed. In my case, it was basically soreness in the injection site, muscle pains, headache. I felt a little fatigue, maybe. And that was it.
WW: Can you tell us what you’ve heard from your colleagues’ experience with the vaccine?
Rojas: Most of the symptoms are pretty similar from what I described: soreness in the injection site, some people have low-grade fever, muscle aches, some people feel really tired a little more pronounced from what I have. I know somebody that developed swollen lymph nodes in the region close to the arm where they got the vaccine. The lymph nodes were swollen and tender for about a couple of days. There have been some allergic reactions, but locally, at least that I know, I haven’t seen that. But you know, you read in the news that some people will develop allergic reactions. Basically, from my colleagues, nurses, and medical assistants that I have talked to is actually pretty similar to what I felt. Some of them say that they planned the vaccine for Friday so they didn’t work for two days. I think that was a good thing to do. It makes sense because some people will have more kind of intense or severe symptoms. But so far, it’s basically similar, just more intense. Some people needed to sleep a lot. They said, ‘oh, I felt so tired that I just went to sleep.’
WW: Would you recommend that the community get vaccinated when the time comes?
Rojas: Absolutely. Absolutely. Many of my patients have this information that doesn’t make any sense. I have had people that tell me all sorts of conspiracy theories that the vaccine can cause infertility, that it can cause problems with your genetic material, which is not true. It’s not possible, actually. They’re really scared, and they don’t want to do it. Some of them after a good discussion and explaining in an easy to understand but scientific way why it’s not possible that you develop those type of long-term effects or reactions. They say, “‘OK, you convinced me, I will do it.’” Other people is [harder]. There is also something in the communities of color, historically, there have been some cases of bad things even in the medical community. There is mistrust, and some of that is not without merit. It is based on historical things that happened to communities of color. So we really have to work hard informing and saying ‘listen, we are like you.’ It helps when you see people that look like you. They hopefully have good intentions, and they just want to make sure that you get the appropriate information to make good decisions. And I will say again, ‘Absolutely.’ I will do it for my brother, sister, parent, grandparent, patients. I take the opportunity every single time somebody comes to see me or I see somebody in the hospital to do my part of saying, ‘you should get the vaccine.’ It’s up to you of course, we know, but I really try my best to provide the little piece of information to encourage people to get the vaccine.