Flicker Fusion

The second shot

My wife and I got our first shot of the vaccine on the very first day we were eligible where we live; other than a little soreness from having a needle jabbed into my arm, I didn’t have any real side effects. We got Moderna, one of the mRNA miracles, meaning we needed to wait a month for a second dose, which we got this past Wednesday.

I’ve read that people are skipping their second shots, in part because they’ve heard the side effects can be bad. I thought I’d share my experience in the hopes it might help convince anyone on the fence to get the second shot.

Our appointment was for 2:45pm and it was quick and easy. The shot itself was nearly painless, we waited our requisite fifteen minutes, then headed to the grocery store to stock up on Gatorade and supplies to properly celebrate every American’s favorite Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo. I made enchiladas for dinner and had a single Negra Modelo, not wanting to tempt fate with margaritas.

I didn’t sleep well that night, in part because I’m a side sleeper and my arm hurt a bit more than the first go round, in part because I just had a lot on my mind that wasn’t related to the vaccine or the pandemic. I dozed on and off and was pretty tired when I finally got out of bed but overall felt pretty good. By mid-morning, around the 18-hour mark, I was ready to declare victory over the second shot. Pride goeth and all that.

Around noon, I started feeling some mild side effects — mostly muscle aches and the types of chills you get with a fever, though I never felt actually feverish. It felt like the onset of a bad cold or a mild flu; during normal times, it’s the kind of thing I would’ve stayed home from work for, mostly to avoid spreading whatever I was feeling, and worked through from home (lol). As luck would have it, that afternoon my team had a previously-planned offsite, which in these times meant a four-hour Zoom meeting. I warned the team I might be somewhat less-than-useful.

By about 4:00 in the afternoon, a little more than 24 hours after I’d gotten the booster dose, I needed to sign off, cancel a few remaining calls, and rest a bit. My family and I are looking to buy a house and one had popped up on our radar, I still felt well enough to drive across town and take a look. We picked up dinner from a local fast-casual burger joint (I had a vegan quinoa patty and sweet potato fries). I got our son ready for bed while my wife cleaned up after dinner, read a little, then crashed pretty hard by 9pm ; I don’t remember my wife coming to bed.

I slept pretty fitfully again, waking up around 2am and not really able to get back to sleep. My muscles and joints were pretty achy, my left arm was still quite sore at the injection point, and I was variously hot and cold. I wandered around the house a bit but couldn’t quite settle in to a comfortable night’s sleep, tried reading a book, dozed intermittently, until finally it was time to get up. In addition to feeling tired from two nights of little sleep, I was definitely feeling the side effects that are described as being typical, including an upset stomach now and not much of an appetite. This lasted for most of the morning.

By the afternoon, I was starting to feel a bit better physically, though it was still challenging to focus on work. I mostly tried to grind it out and then, at around 5:30, my wife asked if I wanted to take a walk before dinner. I looked up from my computer and could confidently say I did. Just like that, I felt almost completely better, roughly 90% capacity. It was a beautiful spring day, a little cool and windy, our walk was lovely.

I usually get about one serious cold every winter, which I’ve attributed to living in bustling cities (and, now, having a school-aged child). End-to-end, from the earliest signs of “crap, here we go” to feeling back to normal, it takes about 5-7 days to run its course. I get a flu shot every year and haven’t had the flu in decades.

I would say the side effects from the second shot were akin to compressing all of that into a period of about 24-36 hours. One of the weirdest effects was mental — usually when I have those types of symptoms, I want to isolate myself from other people as much as possible, out of general self-preservation but also because I don’t want to get my family or others sick. Several times I had to stop and remind myself I wasn’t actually contagious, I was just feeling my immune system do its job.

By the third day, I was fully back to my usual routine: I got a full night’s sleep, felt back to normal, got in a workout. I mowed the yard, ran errands for Mother’s Day, cooked dinner. There was still a little soreness in my injection arm, but even that’s mostly gone. And in a week-in-a half, I’ll be as fully protected from the virus as modern science allows.

If you’re worried about the effects of the second shot, I hope this helps. I’ve tried being as honest as I can, it’s just one person’s experience. I know plenty of people who’ve had even milder side effects, and some who’ve had it a bit worse. Even though I’m still not fully fully vaccinated, the mental load I’ve been carrying with me for the past 14 months is lighter and that’s absolutely worth a day or so of discomfort.

The science is always the easy part

I think I first read about a novel approach to ending one of the worst disease vectors of all time — the Aedes aegypti mosquito — about a decade ago in what memory and some cursory searching tells me must’ve been this New Yorker article. The solution is beautiful in its simplicity: genetically engineer the male mosquito with a “self-limiting” gene that gets passed on to future generations who don’t survive thanks to the bunk genetic coding. Trials have shown mosquito populations plummet by as much as 85% without requiring poisonous insecticides.

One would think that such a breakthrough would be heralded as a miracle of modern science, a brilliant counterattack against a tiny insect that has killed more humans than anything else in history. While malaria, dengue fever, and Zika are diseases primarily associated with the tropics, climate change is bringing them ever closer to the United States, where the OX513A mosquito variant could be deployed to halt these diseases before they spread. Activists in the Florida Keys have fought tooth and nail for a decade and vow to keep fighting as the first modified mosquitos are released this year.

At the end of this month, the Indian Point nuclear power plant, located just 25 miles north of Manhattan, will close for good. Its closure has been a priority of governor and scion Andrew Cuomo for years, part of a promise to environmentalists to replace the very scary specter of nuclear power with green renewable energy.

The problem, alas, is renewables won’t be filling in the gap any time soon so cheap, dirty fuels (primarily natural gas that is plentiful in large part due to a domestic fracking boom) will have to account for the nearly 25% of the energy usage of the nation’s largest city.

In the face of climate change, the decades old fight against nuclear power seems amazingly short sighted. Politicians and environmental activists are rethinking their positions as it’s fairly clear that widespread nuclear power offers one of the few short-to-medium term solutions to ending reliance on fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the rare nuclear power accident is full of drama whereas the thousands who die prematurely or suffer lifelong debilitation from burning fossil fuels simply go unnoticed, like so many externalities. The fact that coal fired power plants tend to be built near the poorest communities only adds to the shame.

Today the CDC recommended a “pause” in the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against Covid-19 due to several reports of blood clots. Of the more than seven million vaccines distributed in the U.S. so far, six people (all of them women between the ages of 18 and 49) have developed blood clots that have led to one death and several serious injuries. Another 10 million doses have already shipped.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a catastrophe, at a fairly precarious time in the fight against the virus. The standard issue mis-and-dis-information campaigns, anti-vaccination inanities, and know-nothing partisan hackery have already prolonged the virus and directly killed hundreds of thousands of people. The “pause” certainly won’t be short-lived, will be seized upon by cavalier and cynical opportunists, and will mean people will die unnecessarily.

The science of genetically modifying mosquitos, generating relatively safe and clean energy, and creating a pandemic-ending vaccine in record time is the work of heroes. It’s mindbendingly difficult work that shows the best of what it means to be human.

The science, though, is the always the easy part.