I was eagerly looking forward to getting vaccinated. I’ve covered the COVID19 pandemic from its outbreak in March 2020 from a health and travel perspective and its devastating impact on the lives and economy on developing countries such as Belize where I am based, and that has tourism as its bread and butter. But I will be clear and honest with you. The experience did not go as well as I had hoped. Image above: Permanent Secretary and Magistrate John Longsworth (RET) gets his COVID19 vaccine in the City of Belmopan.
Upfront, let me state unequivocally I’d do it all over again. I would rather have side effects than COVID19. And more quarantine restrictions, passing the disease to loved ones, or continue to live in daily terror of getting the dreaded virus from unruly behavior from fellow citizens at the local supermarket or exercise trail.
I had my first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at 1200 noon. Early that evening I began to feel fatigued, drowsy. As prescribed, I took one 500mg acetaminophen and napped for about 30 minutes. Around 7pm I was getting what for me is a usual signal that I would be ill. Mild nausea and feeling famished. Fearing I would barf up if I followed my usual meal, I limited myself to one cold cut of deli ham and unsalted biscuits and a pint of plain yoghurt prepared by a Mennonite friend.
Being a night owl, I tried to follow my usual regime of answering emails, running security and performance checks on websites under my care and monitoring news and social media. But it was not to be. I was nodding off, began having difficulty speed typing, I had cotton in my brain. Then came musculoskeletal pain. Starting from the lower back and hips, and radiating up the spine, shoulders, arms and. neck. I began bumping into things. I also began sneezing. A cold front had brought low temps and rain and this perhaps augmented a flu-like cough.Took proton pump inhibitor, mild natural sleep aid, full 320mg aspirin, watched a vintage Mexican film and followed by a Western and fell into a fitful sleep.
Awoke before dawn after only four hours rest and could hardly get out of bed. This is what it may feel being Joe Biden age I thought, having later in the morning watched the president fall three times as he tried to sprint up the stairs of Air Force One. Injection arm site a little sore and felt fatigued and sleepy. So off to a favourite hammock and snoozed another hour. Cough and productive phlegm but nothing major. Ninety days of turning my life around with healthy diet and exercise after a couple of not too rosy markers in my annual physical may have helped immensely I believe.
It is a delicious 20°C in Belize, the most beautiful little country in the world. The new government is early days and lurching from scandal to scandal, the public servants, teachers and law enforcement may soon go on strike. My living depends on Belize tourism that has mostly tanked. But things could be a whole lot worse. COVID19 has taken away five of my former classmates, an aunt, a step uncle, my LPG delivery guy, a compadre, a good friend. But I am alive. Now to the science of vaccines.
My research indicates that the body’s response to vaccines is directly related to the condition of our immune response system. Covid vaccines stimulate the body into thinking it is fighting coronavirus and tap into our natural immune response to an infection. The first sign is a reaction in the arm where you are injected, swelling and soreness, as the immune system is activated.This can progress to the rest of the body and lead to flu-like symptoms including general fatigue, musculoskeletal aches and associated fever, chills, productive cough and nausea.
“That’s caused by an inflammatory response,” Dr. Norlan Barbon, City of Belmopan based internal medicine specialist, told me in a recent consultation. It works like a biological fire alarm. It is a cytokine flood released into the body warning that something is awry. Dr. Brbon said: “It mobilises the body’s immune response and sends out immune cells to figure out what’s going on.” However, it is this response that can make us feel temporarily sick.
However, side effects vary from one person to another. Some will not notice a thing; others will feel groggy, but good enough to work; others will need to take to their beds (or hammocks in my case). “A really important component, is age,” Prof Andrew Pollard, who led trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, stated in a recently published news story. “The older you are, the less the side effects – the over-70s have almost no side effects.”
It is concerning that Belizeans have been slow to uptake COVID19 vaccination. The only vaccine the government has been able to procure are donations of the India manufactured AstraZeneca. The country’s health ministry has come under intense scrutiny under the new government for various missteps. From trying to fire the Director of Health Services, for handing out fat contracts to connected individuals, to allegedly trying to fudge the statistics to show lower than factual COVID19 statistics. But through it all, the dedicated doctors, nurses and front line health professionals do what they do best. Ignore bullying politicians, inept political appointees, a creaking and underfunded health care system. They get the job done with utmost professionalism and kindness.
Dr. Ron Hyde is an eminent Belize-born medical doctor educated in the U.S.A. and specialist physician at Arizona’s Southwest Kidney Institute. He visits his family here regularly. His brother Evan X Hyde chairman of the Amandala Media Group of companies, is like a brother from another mother to me. Dr. Ron Hyde along with several highly regarded Belize physicians such as world-class epidemiologist Dr. Marvin Manzanero freely share general advice on health issues and latest medical news on social media. His advice on whether or not to take the COVID19 vaccine:
“Here is what we must all consider.
“1. The vaccines are remarkably safe.
“2. The vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and death in the recipient, but not foolproof.
“3. Because the vaccine is not 100% perfect at protection, the safety of the recipients still depends partly on the willingness of more people to get vaccinated and reduce the circulation of the virus, thereby protecting fellow humans. (It is literally the MOST “Christian “thing we have been asked to do in our lifetime: look out for our “brother”.)
“4. The slower we are at achieving “herd immunity”, and the more the virus circulates, the greater the chance of developing a mutant that COULD elude the vaccine, be even more deadly, (Ebola as an example) and kill the entire world.”
I am now on day two post vaccine batch #41202029. Mild fever and musculoskeletal pain held at bay by the acetaminophen. I managed to do 25 minutes slow walk exercise. My blood pressure which was a little elevated (perhaps due to the vaccine or the associated stress), is trending down.The medical doctors advise to get on your feet ASAP and move to reduce the possibility of blood clots or deep vein thrombosis. Their advice is that boosting circulation with regular physical activity can reduce your risk of blood clots by up to 39% in women and 22% in men.
Now at almost two weeks post vaccine date, the fatigue and musculoskeletal pain are almost gone but lingering. The doc opened this meant I may have a good immune system as that is an indicator of good vaccine response. Or it may be an allergic reaction. The AstraZeneca COVID19 vaccine has been facing mounting criticism and bad P.R. in Europe and North America. Many people in Belize are refusing to take it. I broke out a terrible rash under an armpit that ballooned to a BIG cyst. May or may not be related to the COVID19 vaccine. Antibiotics and hot compresses and iodine appear to be working. As I write this on 31 March 2021 Belize is receiving by air cargo it’s first COVAX allotment of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine. This allotment contains 33,600 doses with more to come at a date that is not yet ascertained
This article will be updated regularly as I progress into my COVID19 vaccine experience and God willing, go on to my second scheduled dose.
Article by M.A. Romero Chief Information Officer Government of Belize (RET).