Life like it was before the pandemic still seems a long way off, but with every jab it feels a little closer.

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When I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, I was relieved and hopeful. As an immunocompromised person living with psoriatic arthritis, I had been particularly careful about masks and distancing, doing my best to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.

I knew that if I contracted COVID-19, my risk of complications was higher than the general population. My best bet was just to keep the virus out of my household entirely.

The week after my first vaccine dose, I had a known exposure. It was the first close contact I’d had with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, and worse yet, it was in my household. My daughter tested positive, and then my son the next day.

Our household stayed quarantined for weeks, and miraculously, neither my husband nor I ever tested positive. Presumably, I had been at least partially protected by that first dose of the vaccine. It was a good sign.

I was all the more relieved to receive my second dose. Two weeks after, I was celebrating being fully vaccinated and hopeful for a return to “normal” life.

As the months went by, I was alarmed by reports of research suggesting that immunocompromised people were not mounting as strong an antibody response to the vaccine as the rest of the public. I had been walking around with the confidence of the fully vaccinated. But perhaps I’d been foolish.

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first announced its authorization of a third dose of the vaccine for immunocompromised people, and then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its recommendation the next day, I wasn’t sure I qualified.

Perhaps the FDA and the CDC were only targeting more severely immunocompromised people, such as people actively undergoing cancer treatment, or organ transplant recipients.

I carefully scanned the approved list of conditions and medications. And there it was — immunosuppressant drugs for the treatment of autoimmune disease.

The additional doses of the vaccine currently recommended for people with compromised immune systems must be a third dose of the same mRNA vaccine the person received initially, either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

In my case, I had received the Pfizer vaccine initially, so I went to the website of the pharmacy where I had been vaccinated back in the spring. Walgreens had a helpful directory of which location carried which vaccine and said that third dose appointments were walk-in only.

I wasn’t sure what kind of side effects, if any, to expect from my third shot.

After my first shot, I felt perfectly fine, minus the sore arm. I never had a fever or even fatigue.

I had braced myself for the second since many people had told me that the second shot was worse. This time I did experience fatigue and headache and had a very sore arm. But still no fever or anything truly debilitating.

I began to wonder if perhaps that was because my body hadn’t mounted much of a response to the initial doses of vaccine. If the “third time was a charm” and this additional shot worked, perhaps I would feel more significant effects?

Just in case, I cleared my schedule for the 36 hours following my vaccination.

The experience of getting my third shot was relatively simple. Walgreens did require me to sign a form attesting that I did have one of the listed conditions/medications to make me eligible. Then I had to fill out the same paperwork I had for my first two doses, answering questions about allergies and prior vaccine reactions, recent exposures to COVID-19.

As I waited for my turn in the vaccination booth, I noticed that several of the other people waiting were also getting their third dose.

“I’m so relieved,” I heard a man tell his neighbor. “I came straight here from my doctor’s office.”

The injection didn’t hurt at all. I’m so used to the injections I have to give myself every 4 weeks, which do hurt quite a bit, that regular immunizations don’t usually bother me that much. This one I hardly felt.

I waited around, browsing the pharmacy aisles for the designated 15 minutes, and then headed home.

About an hour after my vaccination, my arm started to feel sore. I tried to remember to move it as much as possible. A few hours later, I found myself suddenly quite sleepy and ended up watching a movie on the couch in the middle of the afternoon.

By that evening, I had a headache, so I took some Tylenol and went to bed. I woke up the next day feeling fine, besides the sore arm.

In the afternoon, the same wave of sleepiness hit me, and I spent a few hours on the couch again. I had the same late evening headache that night. However, by the next day, even the sore arm had gone away.

In some ways, I wish I’d had a stronger reaction. At least I would have known for sure that my immune system was kicking into gear.

I can honestly say that, for me, it was no big deal. Perhaps an hour total at the pharmacy, and a day and a half of being somewhat less productive than normal. That’s a small cost compared to the potential impact of COVID-19 itself on my life and body.

I’m not going to completely let my guard down just because I got a third dose of the vaccine. However, I am grateful to have a little extra protection, especially as my kids go back to school in person.

Life like it was before the pandemic still seems a long way off, but with every jab it feels a little closer.


Laura Todd Carns is a freelance writer living in the Washington, DC, area. You can find more of her work at her website or follow her on Twitter @lauratoddcarns.