LARGO, Fla. — On April 5, Florida opened up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults.
Depending on which vaccine you received, millions of Floridians likely received a second dose this past week or are due for the final shot in the coming days.
If you had symptoms you didn't expect, you're not alone. The internet is loaded with stories about people who had varying symptoms from severe to nothing at all.
Debbie Robinson of Largo said she was excited to get her vaccine and found the whole process to be well organized and smooth.
Robinson said she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on March 30. At first, she only had a sore arm but she said, "Eleven days in, I developed a rash, nothing to do with the injection site at all. It was my chest first, moved to my arms, my belly, the whole area, like a chickenpox rash."
She spent two weeks trying to figure out what was causing the rash. Robinson said her primary care doctor didn't totally discount the vaccine but her dermatologist completely ruled out the vaccine sending Robinson on a wild-goose-chase to find answers.
"I actually had a bedbug sniffing canine come into my house," she said.
When her three weeks passed and it was time to get the second shot, she did. She said she had no effects whatsoever ever until eleven days later when the pesky rash returned.
"I’m very pro-vaccine. I just wanted somebody to say hey, this could really be something interesting that we’re going to look at," explained Robinson.
Turns out there's a place for that. It's the VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) website run by the CDC and FDA. If nothing else, it allows people like Debbie Robinson to be heard.
Right on the back of your COVID-19 vaccine card, it says, "You can report possible adverse reactions following COVID-19 vaccination to the VAERS at vaers.hhs.gov."
“It’s still exceedingly rare to have a serious adverse event,” said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.
Kulkarni pointed out that submissions to VAERS are not necessarily verified, connected to, or caused by the vaccine.
“Anybody is able to report,” Kulkarni said. “That includes medical folks, it can be patients themselves, it can be family members, it can be anybody in the public.”
The disclaimer right on the VAERS site says:
VAERS accepts reports of adverse events and reactions that occur following vaccination. Healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the public can submit reports to the system. While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind.
Bottom line: Serious adverse reactions to a COVID-19 vaccine are rare but if you think you experienced something out of the ordinary, report it to VAERS so there's a record of it. This is one of many data tools for researchers to collect and scrutinize information.
The government is also using V-safe, a smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Learn more about the app here.
The CDC has an entire webpage dedicated to possible side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine including a few days of tiredness, headache, and muscle pain. Learn more about what to expect here.
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