The COVID-19 Vaccination: A Precious Date – Part One

A sense of eagerness, apprehension, suspicion and a dash of hope. How do you prepare and what can you expect? Prof Dr James Koh Kwee Choy, Head of Division of Medicine, School of Medicine, International Medical University (IMU) helps to answer these questions as he recalls his first date…with the COVID-19 vaccine

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COVID-19 Vaccination for illustrations (Image by Hakan Nural)

He arrived early. It was half an hour before his appointment. The usual SOPs were followed – QR code scanned, temperature taken, hands sanitised, mask checked and social distancing adhered to. 

He joined the others who were already there waiting and soon he was called up. His identity was checked and verified. 

Then it was time for a briefing and a ten-minute counselling session with an assigned doctor. A short medical history was taken — covering medical conditions and medications. He was given time for any questions he might have. When the doctor was satisfied that it was safe for him to receive the vaccine, he was given a consent form to sign. 

With everything in order, it was time for his jab.

“It was quite a long process,” says Prof Dr James Koh Kwee Choy, Head of Division of Medicine, School of Medicine, International Medical University (IMU) as he recalls his first ‘date’ with the COVID-19 vaccine. “But the injection itself was very fast and painless, just a very small nick that you don’t really feel at all,” he assures.

All in all his appointment took about two hours, including a half an hour post-jab observation. “They will observe you ensure that you do not have any severe reactions such as an anaphylactic shock,” explains Prof James.

The COVID-19 Vaccination: A Precious Date – Part One
COVID-19 vaccine (Image for illustration purpose only)

On the Side

The COVID-19 Vaccination: A Precious Date – Part OneAccording to Prof James, the side effects vary widely but it is very rare that you will experience severe reactions. For him, he experienced pain and swelling at the injection area and was tired for about three days. “I slept a lot,” he says, while some of his colleagues had fever and chills.

It was the second jab though that hurt more. “The effects were more pronounced for me with the second dose. The pain was more intense, my left shoulder was more swollen and I really felt very, very tired and sleepy,” he says. He also had swollen lymph nodes and the side effects lasted more than a week. “This time I took some paracetamol to ease the pain,” he adds. Taking mild pain relief such as paracetamol is fine but not Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), he advises.

“There is no need to worry about the side effects because these are expected reactions to a vaccine. It shows that your body is working to produce antibodies,” he explains. On the flip side, he says that we need not worry if we have no side effects. “That does not mean it is not working. In fact, you should consider yourself lucky!”

You are of course advised to immediately seek medical help if you experience breathlessness or extreme dizziness.

Be Prepared

Most Malaysians are still waiting for their appointments, and some of us are going the extra mile to sleep more, eat well and exercise regularly. But is this necessary?

Prof James answers with a laugh, “We should always be cultivating good healthy habits!” He adds, “Yes, be well-rested because when you receive the vaccine, the body is at war. So if you are well-rested, your body will be better at fighting than if you are overly tired. But there really isn’t much we need to do to prepare.”

Similarly, after you have received the vaccine, he says, “If you are feeling tired, rest. Don’t immediately return to strenuous workouts or start an exercise regime if you hadn’t been doing it before. But there are no hard and fast rules. Just listen to your body.”

There is also no need to specifically eat or fast before going for your appointment. “But if you are like me and you get hungry easily, please eat something before you go,” he says. You might even want to bring some snacks with you just in case.

“If you are feeling a bit under the weather you don’t have to be worried. You can still get the vaccine,” he adds.

Final Tips:-

On the day

  • Turn up early for the appointment. (about half an hour before the appointment time).
  • Wear loose clothing that allows doctors to easily access your shoulder.
  • Remember to bring your mobile phone with your MySejahtera ID and your NRIC.
  • A briefing and verification of your identity. You will need to scan several QR codes with your mySejahtera app.
  • There will be a short counselling session by a doctor who will review your medical history such as past medical problems, allergies, etc.
  • If this is cleared, you will need to sign the consent form saying that you are agreeable to the vaccine. This is only during the first dose.
  • You can then proceed to vaccination. It is better to be injected on your non-dominant hand, as most people experience soreness and pain at the injection area.
  • You will need to stay for observation for 30 minutes. You will be monitored for any severe reactions.
  • You will receive a notification for your second dose (between 2-3 weeks after). The second dose will be much faster as there will be no counselling or briefing session.
  • After the second dose, you will be given a card to verify that you have received both doses. This card will also be available in your mySejahtera app.