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How the COVID-19 Vaccine Has Changed My Life (So Far)

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

I’ve received my two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and am now weeks past my second dose. Like many who’ve received the shot, I feel a rush of emotions about my circumstance. My first emotion was simply unbridled happiness. After months of this infernal pandemic casting a pall over all our lives, the feeling at my community hospital amongst the huge crowd getting the first shot at the end of December was pure joy. We were almost giddy. Many were taking selfies; it was like a party. The sense of community I felt was strong and sincere, something I’ll remember for a long time.

But there was also a tinge of guilt. Much of my work now is administrative and done at home. My clinical work is mostly via telemedicine, also done from home. I do go into the office, about once a week, and am exposed, though far less than my colleagues. I don’t feel like I’m cutting the line, but in the early weeks of vaccine distribution, I felt funny mentioning my vaccine status when talking with office staff, most of whom hadn’t received it. Now, with all our office staff immunized with at least the first shot, I don’t have those feelings anymore.

Another emotion was gratitude: for the scientists who sequenced the genome of the virus and developed the vaccines, for the drug companies who got the vaccines out in record time, and begrudgingly, for the federal government, which despite stumbling overall in its response to the pandemic, supported the effort to get the vaccines produced. (I will not comment on the rollout of the vaccination efforts.)

I was also awed. The mere fact that we have this vaccine less than 10 months from the start of the pandemic in our country is astonishing to me. Getting this vaccine out so quickly when the fastest a vaccine had been produced before this one was four years is truly a testament to the power of science and technology.  

Mostly, I felt tremendous relief: this shot may have saved my life. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I am convinced it’s true. As I’ve documented on Doximity before, I have a host of medical issues: s/p stem cell transplant, two myocardial infarctions, chronic graft versus host disease of my lungs requiring supplemental oxygen at night and with exercise, and diabetes, to name the most significant ones. A bad case of COVID-19 could very well have proven fatal for me, so for most of the past year, I’ve been living in fear of contracting the illness. I have taken the necessary precautions, and limited my exposure clinically, but as we all know, most cases in health care workers don’t come from clinical exposure, but rather from household or family contacts. Of course, my family has been good about cooperating with all the necessary restrictions.

But now, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It’s incredibly freeing. I’ve taken to making some changes in my life, and I find myself wondering if others have done the same. Two weeks after my second shot, my wife and I (she’s a nurse and had both her shots, too) went out to eat at a restaurant. Indoors. That day happened to be the day that restaurants re-opened in our area, and they did so with limited capacity, social distancing rules, and a requirement to wear masks when not eating, so we felt safe. I also made plans to take a late winter golf trip with some golfing buddies of mine (also doctors who are fully immunized), visited a bookstore for the first time since the pandemic, and made plans to have dinner with friends I haven’t seen in months (after they get their second doses).

I don’t think any of this is reckless. I know the statistics; I could be in the 5% that is not truly immune. I understand that I may be able to transmit the virus to someone else, even if I am asymptomatic. So I’m still being careful: still masking when out of the house, still practicing social distancing, still using good hand hygiene, etc. 

You may disagree with my travel plans, but I don’t feel I’m being irresponsible. If we can’t be a little freer, then what’s the point of getting the vaccine anyway? I know the response some may give to that question: it’s so that I won’t die, or cause someone else to. But if these vaccines are as effective as they purport to be, then I am going to take advantage of it. Getting the vaccine makes me feel like the shackles have been taken off, that I have a new lease on life. This sheltered life has been trying on all of us, and I, for one, am willing to responsibly live a little more fully. What about you?

What emotions has the vaccination discussion — or actually getting a COVID-19 vaccine — triggered for you? Share your experience in the comment section.

A practicing pediatrician for over 26 years, Dr. Ruben J. Rucoba currently serves as Director of Medical Services for PediaTrust, a large pediatric "supergroup" in the Chicago area. He also established his own thriving medical writing and editing business in 2010. He has no conflicts of interest to declare. Dr. Rucoba was a 2019–2020 Doximity Op-Med Fellow and is a 2020–2021 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.

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