An SMA Patient and a Pulmonologist Comment on the COVID-19 Vaccine

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by Halsey Blocher |

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My wheelchair van pulled up outside of a vaccination clinic downtown where I would receive my first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. This was one of my biggest outings in over a year. Like many in the SMA community, I made the choice to limit most of my excursions to leisurely car rides, outdoor activities, and trips through the Starbucks drive-thru to protect my health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My mom helped me put on my “Doctor Who” mask, which caused my glasses to fog up when we entered the building. Red arrows on the floor pointed us to the vaccine check-in, where we were greeted by friendly staff and volunteers whose kind smiles could be seen even beneath their masks.

After being checked in, we were sent into the next room where my dose was waiting. It was administered by a nurse who was clearly skilled at giving shots.

We then made one final stop at the socially distanced waiting area where I was asked to sit for 15 minutes to make sure I wouldn’t have a severe reaction to the vaccine. After my mom selected a seat in the farthest corner of the room (I brought my own chair, of course), we were joined by a staff member who scheduled my next appointment and chatted with us while we waited to leave.

Based on what I had heard from others who had already received their first dose, I expected I wouldn’t have much of a reaction to it. My only symptom ended up being arm soreness, which I experience after any type of vaccine.

I entered the clinic again 28 days later with foggy glasses and was greeted by the smiling team. The second dose was injected into my arm, and the same staff member kept us company in the waiting area.

Halsey stops for a photo with a friendly clinic worker, Nia, after receiving her second COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

I was now well on my way to having the protection I needed.

I wasn’t surprised to find that I experienced a few more side effects this time. The rest of the day went by without issue, but I woke up with chills late that night. By morning, the chills had been replaced with a mild headache that quickly went away after taking ibuprofen. Fatigue stepped up to take a turn after that and persisted through the remainder of the day.

Within 48 hours of receiving the vaccine, the only symptom that remained was a slightly sore arm. While none of these minor side effects were desirable outcomes, I consider the short-term discomfort a fair price to pay for the full protection the vaccine offers.

In addition to sharing my personal experience with the COVID-19 vaccine, I also want to share some insights on the subject from a medical professional. I spoke over the phone with one of my physicians, Dr. Richard Shell, who is a pediatric pulmonologist specializing in treating SMA patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Following is some of the advice he shared with me during our conversation:

When I asked Dr. Shell if he had any general thoughts on the vaccine that he wanted to share, he simply said, “If you can get it, you should as soon as possible.”

Halsey and her favorite pulmonologist, Dr. Richard Shell, during a 2016 checkup. (Courtesy of Halsey Blocher)

Evidence suggests that all of the vaccines available in the U.S. are both safe and effective, and Dr. Shell agrees with this. He expects that many people who receive a vaccine will experience common side effects, such as the chills, headache, and fatigue that I encountered, but he doesn’t think this should deter people from getting it.

I’ve often taken ibuprofen before vaccinations as a preventative measure to manage possible side effects, but I had heard you shouldn’t do this with the COVID-19 vaccine. When I asked Dr. Shell about this, he said he believes there isn’t enough research to support the theory that ibuprofen may interfere with the vaccine’s efficacy, and he gave me permission to take it either before or after my vaccine if I felt like I needed it. (Consult with your doctor before making decisions about taking any type of medication.)

Lastly, I asked Dr. Shell if people who are fully vaccinated should continue taking precautions such as wearing a mask in public. “My recommendation is that we should wear masks in public until there are enough people vaccinated that it will be safer for all. Oh, as well as washing our hands!”

I hope my experience with the COVID-19 vaccine and Dr. Shell’s advice have helped answer some of the questions you might have about it. If you’re interested in receiving a vaccine or would like more information about it, talk to your doctor to decide what’s best for you.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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