Rolling out: Trinity students and their Covid-19 vaccination experiences

As Trinity frontline workers receive Covid-19 vaccines, some weigh in on their own vaccination stories

As the distribution of Covid-19 vaccinations in Ireland becomes more widespread, almost 150,000 first doses have been administered to frontline healthcare workers. Some trinity students amongst them shared their experience with the vaccination process. 

Many of Trinity’s students are frontline workers, be it a part-time job or integrated course placement. These students have been at the forefront of the pandemic, and now of the initial vaccination progress. For some vaccination is a no-brainer at this point in the pandemic, but for others the decision holds a little more weight. “The number one motivator for me to get the vaccine was to protect my patients,” states Eadaoin Fagan, a third-year Children’s and General Nursing student. Emily Mahony, a second-year Biological and Biomedical Sciences student shared that she “didn’t want to put myself or others at risk”, while William Curran, a second-year General Nursing student “saw it as the first step of things going back to normal”. Curran, who is due to start placement, “felt a responsibility to protect the people around me”.

With the constant media buzz around Covid-19 vaccines, their efficacy, side effects and many circulating myths, these Trinity students discussed their anxieties and opinions prior to vaccination: Mahony reveals,  “I was anxious about the side effects as I have a mild autoimmune disease” but that “all the staff involved made sure I knew exactly what to expect”. Fagan worries about how effective the vaccines will be if a significant amount of the population opts out of receiving it, but states that her pre-vaccination anxiety was minimal as “new research is coming out every day to prove it will work”. Curran, who had contracted the virus the previous summer while working as a healthcare assistant, states that “any anxieties I had about the vaccine were overshadowed by the prospect of things finally going back to normal”.

Though the new vaccines may be a cause of anxiety for some, the Trinity students assure that it was a normal and familiar experience.”

The process of vaccination is one we may go through many times, from MMR shots at a young age, to tetanus vaccines or annual flu jabs. Though the new vaccines may be a cause of anxiety for some, the Trinity students assure that it was a normal and familiar experience. Curran received an email from St. James’ Hospital in late December saying that vaccine slots were available for booking, but missed the first wave. He sat waiting at his laptop for the second wave of appointments to become available and compared the feeling to “waiting for EP tickets to drop”. Mahony had to fill out a form about her work and health conditions to ensure she was eligible to get the vaccine. Fagan described the vaccination process: “the hospital had a really good system in place, that ran really smoothly and ensured everyone was socially distanced and safe. The vaccine itself was not painful, then we were kept for around 15 minutes just to make sure we didn’t have a reaction to the vaccine, then allowed to go home”.

Mahony and Fagan both received the AstraZeneca vaccine and described similar side effects. “I got my vaccine around 3 pm, and the only side effect I felt was pain at the injection site until around 1 am [when] I woke up with a fever, aches and pains, really bad headache and nausea. These symptoms persisted until around 3 pm the next day – so literally 24 hours on the dot! After that, I just had a slight fever but was definitely feeling much better, and 48 hours later I had no side effects at all, was completely back to myself” detailed Fagan. Mahony shared a similar story of “extreme fatigue, headaches and joint pain for 48 hours after the vaccine”. Both Mahony and Fagan have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and are waiting for the second dose, while Curran has received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Curran states that he “had a bit of a sore arm after the first dose but it was fine after a few hours”, and that he had no side effects after the second dosage. These side effects are normal, differ from person to person, and can occur after most vaccinations, whether for Covid-19 or seasonal flu. Side-effects, such as prolonged pain at the injection site, are evidence of the body’s immune response being activated and preparing to fight against a real infection. 

The general fatigue of working through the pandemic for nearly a year now has definitely overshadowed the glee of being vaccinated.”

While Fagan and Mahony were relieved to have started the vaccination process, Curran acknowledges that, though he is vaccinated, the pandemic is far from over. “The general fatigue of working through the pandemic for nearly a year now has definitely overshadowed the glee of being vaccinated”. While the pandemic continues on, all have hope that, with more vaccines being approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the vaccine rollout will become more efficient and bring about a so-called “new normal” sooner rather than later.

Frontline workers being confronted with some of the harshest, most intense and pressurised conditions our generation have ever seen. When asked what advice they would give those waiting to be vaccinated or those who are wary about the vaccination process, Fagan reminds us “the vaccine is just a quick jab” and that “it will be over in two seconds”.  Curran reassures that these vaccines have been proven to work by many researchers, and countries ahead of us in the rollout. Mahony advises anyone with worries about vaccination to “understand the “normal” side effects before getting it and know that the people vaccinating you will be very helpful at clearing up any anxieties you may have”. With still months ahead before the majority of Trinity students get vaccinated, Fagan reminds us to “try and think about how it will all be worth it in the end”.