My Experience Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Our ambassador Cheryl Angelelli shares with us her story about recently getting the COVID-19 vaccine. She was among the first 2 million Americans to receive the vaccine and among the first of those with a disability.

It is safe to say 2020 was a year like no other. For the past 27 years I have worked in marketing at the Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center. Since the start of COVID-19, I have lived it every day. Although I do not provide direct patient care, my role was to communicate information about COVID-19 to our employees and patients. In the early days of the virus, it felt like information was changing daily.

As a C6, incomplete quadriplegic, I fell into the high-risk category for becoming seriously ill should I contract COVID-19. My spinal cord affects my diaphragm and abdominal muscles. This means I am unable to produce a strong cough. A forceful cough is necessary to help you bring up mucus in the lungs, which can prevent respiratory infections. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, so it put me at higher risk.

At first, when I learned a vaccine was going to be fast-tracked, I have to admit I was on the fence as to whether I would get the vaccine or not. 'Were things moving too fast, was it tested in enough people, what were the long-term effects'--these were just some of the questions I had. 

Luckily working for a hospital, I had access to physicians and infectious disease experts, all of whom studied the data and educated us on its efficacy. I also did my own research, and in the end, I decided when it was my turn, I would confidently roll-up my sleeve to be vaccinated.

Our first delivery of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in mid-December. Like hospitals across the country, we had a phased roll-out. The first to be vaccinated were the frontline medical providers and staff in the emergency rooms and COVID units. The next phase was essential workers caring for non-COVID-19 patients, followed by all other hospital staff. 

In late December, I found out it was my turn to be vaccinated. I could not think of a better way to end 2020 than to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. On December 29, 2020, I was among the first 2 million people in the U.S. to receive the vaccine and among the first of those with a disability.

I am a person who is not crazy about needles; then again, who really is. But, I have to admit, the shot did not hurt at all. And if you ever received a flu shot, it felt no different. 

The only thing I felt was grateful. The historical significance of that moment was not lost on me either. I found myself quite emotional thinking about all those who have died of COVID-19 and how many more lives will be lost until the vaccine is available to everyone.

The only symptom I had after shot #1 was my arm was a little sore at the injection site. The currently approved COVID-19 vaccines require you get two shots a few weeks apart. On January 19, I received shot #2. I had been hearing that people were having more side effects from the second shot, so I was prepared that the experience might be a little different.

I received the shot in the morning and felt great afterwards. About 13 hours later, I had chills and body aches. I was also very tired. The symptoms lasted about 12 hours. However, everyone is different; some of my co-workers' symptoms were consistent with mine and others completely different.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these symptoms are normal and a sign that the body is building protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.

I decided to share my experience because so many people, especially those with disabilities are scared to get the vaccine. The vaccine is our best tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and helping us get one step closer to reclaiming our lives. We can have the best medicine in the world available to us, but it only works if people take it.

Vaccination is a personal decision, and everyone's situation is different, so discuss with your physician if being vaccinated is right and safe for you. Let facts lead your decision, not fear. It can be challenging to know which sources of information you can trust. I recommend visiting the CDC. This link provides answers to the most frequently asked questions about the COVID vaccine.

I am tired of fearing COVID-19. I am tired of being isolated. I am tired of not being able to see my family and friends. I am tired of not being able to eat in a restaurant, travel or go to a movie. I want my life back. I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem, and for these reasons, I chose to be vaccinated!

About Cheryl Angelelli

Paralympic medal winner, World Record holder, and Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame inductee, are just a few of Cheryl Angelelli’s many accomplishments. She is also a professional ballroom dancer and works in healthcare marketing.