Personal Account by Ms. Valeria Chambers,
Certified Peer Specialist:
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate, That is the Question
One way or the other, the COVID 19 vaccine is on peoples’ minds. Should I or shouldn’t I? If not now, when? Is it safe or is it not? Is it safe for some but not for others?
For me, the decision came relatively easily- I’d been getting vaccines and boosters all my life with no ill effects. Statistically speaking, my age and health conditions put me in a “higher risk” category for contracting COVID. At first, I did feel some hesitancy about taking the vaccine. I wished there’d been opportunity for longer trials on more people. I thought I might wait until a lot of whites got it before I took it… horrific accounts from the book, Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington swirled in my head. But when I asked my primary care doctor, whom I respect and trust, what she thought, she answered that she would be more concerned about me getting symptoms of COVID than side-effects from the vaccine. This made sense to me. Knowing that I would be able to get the shot at the hospital where I work, which I trust, did help to ease my mind.
The first shot wasn’t bad. I didn’t even feel the needle. That night my arm started throbbing, so I took some Tylenol. It was sore for about 5 days. The second shot was different. On the morning, the day after the shot, as soon as I opened my eyes from a good night’s sleep, the first thing that involuntarily popped into my head was that I did not want to live. I knew it wasn’t me, that was the depression speaking. I couldn’t stay out of bed. Every bone, tendon and muscle screamed in pain. I had no desire to eat and no energy to even look for something. The idea of picking up the phone to call someone felt like climbing to the moon. Amazingly, I slept all day and night, and the following morning I felt pretty much ok. I called the helpline of my insurance company and shared what I experienced with their nurse. She said depression was not a side effect of COVID and screened me for depression. Later however, my psychiatrist confirmed that depression can be a side effect of COVID 19, especially if the person has a history of serious depression and/or is elderly. This is an important detail the public should be made aware of.
“…my psychiatrist confirmed that depression can be a side effect of COVID 19, especially if the person has a history of serious depression and/or is elderly. This is an important detail the public should be made aware of.”
In one of the Black affinity support groups I attend, we had a lively discussion about the pros and cons of the vaccine. Each person shared what they were thinking and whether they planned to get the vaccine or not. One person admitted that he was absolutely terrified of taking it, as a Black man in America, but felt that as a leader, he should be an example for his community. As we went around the room, people who had gotten the vaccine shared what it was like–everything from the decision-making process to finally making the appointment, to going to the site and sharing what the procedures there were like, to watching people walking away to safely get back into their cars, and finally, to how they dealt with any side effects in the following days. Following this discussion, the man who had been terrified shared that he felt so much better. Hearing these simple things from his peers–just everyday ordinary people like himself, made all the difference. He was confident that he could make his decision based less on fear and more on the experiences shared by members of this group that he was an important part of.
Valeria Chambers, CPS, EdM, CAS
Peer Consultant, MGH COE
Peer Support Facilitator, Black Voices: Pathways 4 Recovery, Cambridge Health Alliance