Healthline contributor Nancy Schimelpfening shares how she got the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine early, the side effects she experienced from both doses, and why knowing she’s inoculated gives her a “peace of mind” she hasn’t had since the pandemic began.

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“I’m happy to do my share in making things safer for everyone,” said Healthline contributor Nancy Schimelpfening after getting her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Thitiphat Khuankaew/EyeEm/Getty Images

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As I write this, I am six days past my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

While I know the pandemic is far from over, I’d be lying if I said I’m not sleeping a bit better at night.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this vaccine was 95 percent effective in preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 in people studied.

Although we don’t yet know exactly how it will perform under real-world conditions, the odds are very good that even if I get sick, I will not get as sick as I might have prior to the vaccine. Better yet, I may not get sick at all.

That knowledge is giving me a peace of mind that I have not had since the pandemic began.

When I originally signed up for the vaccine in early January, the most common question people were asking me was how I managed to get it so early since I’m only 55 years old and not a healthcare worker?

My answer is “luck.”

First of all, I met my state’s criteria for being at increased risk for a bad outcome if I do contract COVID-19. I have high blood pressure, and I fall above a body mass index of 30.

Also, I have sleep apnea. While I have never seen sleep apnea listed among any of the criteria associated with a poor outcome with COVID-19, logic tells me that needing a medical device to prevent me from having episodes of not breathing when I sleep would only complicate matters if I had COVID-19.

In addition to the fact that I happened to meet the criteria to be eligible, it was also a matter of just being in the right place at the right time.

Since last April, I have been following our mayor’s Facebook page to get all of the local COVID-19 updates. So, when he announced that Phase 1B vaccinations (ages 65+ or 16+ with higher-risk health conditions) were opening up and provided a link to register, I immediately clicked.

What I quickly discovered, however, is that I wasn’t alone in wanting an appointment. I selected a slot multiple times, and by the time I hit enter, it was already taken. Finally, seeing how quickly they were going, I chose one of the later dates in the list and successfully made my appointment.

Later, when I checked back on the original post where I had learned about the appointments, I saw there were other people who were angry and upset that no more appointments were left.

I know even now there are many who want and need the vaccines and are still struggling to secure their own place in line.

Based on my own experiences, I think the No. 1 bit of advice I would give is to monitor the places where your local public health officials are posting their COVID-19 updates regularly. This is the first place where it will be announced when new appointments open up.

My second piece of advice would be, when you do see that announcement, don’t hesitate. Make the phone call or fill out the form or whatever is required to make your appointment.

Appointments are likely to be scarce for a while until vaccine production can meet the need. If you or a loved one has a strong need for vaccination, you may have to be very vigilant to make sure it happens.

One final thing I would like to mention is that, in addition to going the usual route to obtain a vaccine, you might want to check into vaccine studies that are ongoing. If you live near a hospital or university where research is being conducted, this might be a way to get your foot in the door sooner.

While I was waiting for vaccinations to become available in my area, I was simultaneously signed up to be involved in vaccine studies. In fact, I received a call from them a few days before my scheduled vaccination and had to turn them down because I was already going to receive a vaccine.

In my location, there were a few large clinics set up around the city. The one I went to was set up in a mall inside what used to be a large department store. I’ve seen that in other cities, they are sometimes set up as drive-through clinics as well.

All of the expected safety protocols were being followed. Everyone had to wear a mask. There was plenty of distance between everyone. The staff was cleaning and disinfecting each station in between patients.

The operation itself was quite efficient, with us being checked in and moved from station to station very quickly.

First, they confirmed that we were registered, then we received a card with our vaccine information on it and a leaflet with information about the vaccine, then the vaccination itself.

The injection, which was given in my upper arm muscle, was quick and almost painless.

Finally, we were given an appointment to return in three weeks for a second dose and asked to sit in a waiting area for 10 minutes. Nurses were in the area while we waited just in case anyone had an adverse reaction.

To follow up with us, we were given a flyer for a program called “v-safe.”

To participate in v-safe, you could either use your smartphone to read a QR code or visit a website to sign up.

I opted for the smartphone sign up, which involves daily check-ins via text for the first week, weekly check-ins for the first five weeks, and check-ins at the 3-, 6-, and 12-month points.

Each time you check-in, you are asked how you feel and what symptoms you have had. It’s simple and only takes a couple of minutes.

It is also possible that you may receive a call from someone about your symptoms, although I never did. I suspect they would only contact you if you had an adverse event. I did not.

Using v-safe is confidential, but is entirely optional if you don’t want to participate.

I received my first dose of the vaccine around 1:30 p.m. that day.

By around 10:30 p.m., my arm was sore at the injection site and itchy all the way down to my wrist with a little bit of a rash.

Around the same time, I had a bit of stomach ache that lasted for about 30 seconds. While I can’t say for sure it was related to the vaccine, it was unlike any other stomach pain I have ever had, so I’m assuming it was.

For the next few days, I felt mild, flu-ish symptoms like achiness and nausea, similar to what you might feel when you start to think you might be coming down with something.

Also, my arm was sore for a few days.

After a few days, though, I was back to normal.

When it came time for my second dose, I was a bit nervous because I had read that people often have more severe symptoms. For me, however, this didn’t turn out to be the case. After the second dose, my arm was sore for a couple of days, and that was it.


Even if I had had more severe side effects — like joint pain, headache, or fever — it would have been worth it for me.

As of Feb. 10, 2021, there have been 443,107 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the United States. Of those deaths, 72,189 were people between 45 and 64 years old, and 10,962 were people under age 45. These younger deaths are presumably people like me with pre-existing conditions.

It’s true that many people have only mild symptoms, and I might be one of those people. Or, I might not. I’d much rather feel a little bit sick now instead of wondering how severe a case of COVID-19 I might have later on.

I also feel that having the vaccine is worthwhile because I am doing my part to protect others. Even if I knew that I could catch the disease and not suffer any effects at all from it, there is still the risk that I might transmit it to someone who would not be so lucky. I’m happy to do my share in making things safer for everyone.