May 23, 2021

Why I Chose the J&J Vaccine

FULL Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical professional and I wholeheartedly believe that every individual has to process their own decisions about all vaccinations, including their own moral and ethical stances on the current vaccines available during the CoVid-19 pandemic.

Vaccines freak me out.

The more I learn about them and the giant pharmaceutical companies that produce them, the less I trust the entire system.

I already felt this way in 2019, so maybe you can imagine my brain going to all the horrible places starting last March, 2020.

I went directly to the "worst-case-scenario," that any vaccine against a global pandemic would probably end up being the prophesied "Mark of the Beast" from the book of Revelation in the Bible.

My personal stance for the majority of the pandemic was: I will not be vaccinated.

I am a thirty-five year-old woman with no serious health issues in my history or heritage who has a physically activity job in sports.

I still do not think that I am at a high risk of dying from CoVid-19. I understand that the offered vaccines are simply that: a probable protection from dying from CoVid-19, not necessarily protection from contracting the virus itself.

In the months and weeks leading up to my first trip to America in April, I talked with at least fifty different people around my age about the pros and cons about the various vaccine options. I was asking if they planned on getting vaccinated, which vaccine, where, how, random logistics, if symptoms were experienced...ALL the questions.

I learned to suppress my doomsday rhetoric as it became more clear that: a) the vaccine proof would not be marked on the forehead or the hand, b) there was not one single "monopoly" vaccine, and c) many of my Christian friends were not worried about it.

I was originally convinced that getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be the swiftest solution, what with only coming to the USA for two weeks at a time. However, it was never very clear to me on where to get this specific vaccine and/or how to find it in the small amount of time I would have available to me while in America. (Vaccines in Germany are finally gaining momentum, but back in March, the future looked pretty bleak.)

When the J&J vaccine went on pause, I was back at square one.

Finally, I was able to accept a tentative plan that involved intricate date planning, accessing whatever vaccine Walmart would be offering at the end of my first trip to Georgia in order to facilitate the right amount of possible days until the next appointment (pending Pfizer or Moderna shots) near the start of my second trip to California.

Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole "hoping for it all to work out" kind of attitude.

While visiting my family in Georgia, I decided I really wanted to check if I had the virus antibodies already. Marc and I were consistently amazed over the past year that, while we were being generally careful, we knew we couldn't be so perfect as to insure our safety from exposure to the virus. We began to wonder if indeed we had already had it, and that was perhaps why we weren't getting sick ever.

I went to CVS Pharmacy and took the antibodies test with two really great nurses. I had to wait with them for around ten minutes for my result, and we were all chatting through our experiences with the testing during the pandemic. Towards the end of waiting for the result to process, the head nurse casually mentioned, "Oh yeah, we just started the Johnson & Johnson shot in our store this week again! You can walk right over there and get it!"

Immediately, my head went into all the possible pros and cons of having surprising instant access to the single-shot J&J vaccine.

I had read all the articles about why the J&J vaccine had gone on pause; women aged 18 to 50 had the risk of blood clotting. I fell right into that risk group. 

If I got the shot tomorrow, I would have seven days at my parents' house before getting onto four planes to travel back to Germany. You know, long plane rides where we are all at risk for blood clotting.

If I was going to do this, I needed to make a decision within the next few hours in order to schedule an appointment for the next day.

If I didn't take this shot tomorrow, I was going to be at the mercy of Walmart where whatever vaccine they could offer me in Georgia in May might not be the same follow-up shot at a Walmart in California in June.

More and more news was coming out about how having a vaccine meant less quarantine time, less restrictions, and less complications. Mask-mandates have not really been relevant to my happiness, so that was neither here nor there.

This was a time and opportunity situation, a game-time decision.

I chose to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for my freedom.

I chose to be vaccinated so my family and friends wouldn't have to worry about my presence after international travel. I chose to be vaccinated so I could feel a little less worried about if there would be a next time I would get to see my family again. Because, yes, in the nearly year and a half of a global pandemic, I was terrified that this cute expat plan of ours could fail miserably with us trapped in Europe without the rumored "vaccine passports" to travel and no way to ever see our families or friends again.

If that nurse at CVS hadn't mentioned J&J, I would have had no idea it was an option. She wasn't even advertising or pushing it, it was just an organic part of a pandemic conversation.

The pharmacist who administered my shot the next day asked me if I was really sure I wanted this vaccine because I was in the risk group. I asked him a couple of more questions about it, then committed to it. I was thankful just the same that he took the time to make sure I was sure.

The actual shot was done really well. I waited by choice for fifteen minutes in the CVS Pharmacy area, then went home with my mom who had driven me. We had all cleared the day to make sure I wouldn't had anything strenuous to do and could just sit around drinking water.

About seven hours after my 11:30 AM shot, I got really tired and went to bed early. It was then I realized I was coming down with a fever for the first time in a year and a half. We monitored it with water, aspirin, and the thermometer (which, by the way, Marc and I do not have, so it was an extra godsend to feel crappy at my parents' house). The 101 degree Fahrenheit fever came and went twice throughout the night, always breaking back to the right body temperature. I took it easy again the next day and only experienced some mild nausea in the afternoon.

I had a sore shoulder for about five days, but always had at least 90% range of motion. So I know from my other friends that my muscle soreness was very mild; I was able to do most everything, including holding a baby and a toddler without any problems.

The riskiest part of choosing to be in this giant global vaccine experiment was having to get on airplanes within a week of receiving the shot. I have never exercised so much on a plane! 

Obviously, I survived the two-ish week awareness time for blood clotting, and am now fully vaccinated.

I completely understand that many people in my situation would probably not have made the same decision as I did, but it was the right decision for me. Even if I had suffered a serious side effect afterwards, I had already accepted that it was the right decision to get this vaccine when I did for my life situation.

We do not yet know any of the possible long-term effects of receiving any of the vaccines. We do not yet know if we will need annual booster shots. We do not yet know if the various vaccines can be mixed. We do not yet know if all the vaccines work against ever-growing number of the virus variants.

I feel very grateful and privileged to have had access to choose which vaccine I wanted to use. I am thankful that when I visit my friends in California, I will not have to worry about quarantining away from them, taking extra corona tests to be sure, or need to be tested to re-enter Germany at the end of my trip. I will be able to return to work right away in June without quarantine (I quarantined returning from Georgia because my vaccine was not at its two-week mark yet).

Whether you choose to be vaccinated now or later or never, and whatever vaccine you do or do not choose, just make sure of this: you know your decision as a deeply personal conviction and you accept the consequences of whatever decision you are making. Because, unfortunately, ALL of our decisions about vaccines come with risks and consequences. There is not 1000% right answer or way to manage all of this.

I chose my vaccine because of the freedoms it would afford me the most quickly and efficiently as an expat in sports who loves to travel.

Thanks to my family and friends for your wisdom, guidance, support, and even in-person care during my vaccine journey. I hope you are staying safe and our lives can slowly creep back to more normalcy.

Praying for you always!