What Is It Like Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine?

A WPR Reporter Shares Their First-Hand Account Of Getting The Shot

Nurse fills syringe with COVID vaccine
Jefferson County public health nurse Mary Bender draws up a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, at Jefferson County Fair Park. Angela Major/WPR

According to the state Department of Health Services, more than 15 percent of Wisconsinites have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s a lot of people, but there’s still a ways to go before the state hits what experts consider the threshold for herd immunity. Many people who have yet to get their shot may be wondering: what is it like? The following is a first-person account from WPR reporter Bridgit Bowden about her experience getting the vaccine.

Earlier this week, Wisconsinites in phase 1c became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. An estimated 2 million people with certain health conditions are now eligible to get the vaccine — including me.

So, I took the first appointment I could find, at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, which is a joint site run by the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

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I was feeling pretty nervous as I walked into the building. I’d been reading and reporting about the vaccine for months, and now that it was my turn to get it, it felt completely surreal.

As soon as I walked through the door, someone took my temperature. They confirmed that I didn’t have a fever, and showed me where I could get in line.

Tape markings on the floor showed where to stand, 6 feet from the person in front of me and the person behind me. At the front of the line, they checked my ID and asked me how I qualify for the vaccine. I told them I was a part of group 1c, for an existing medical condition.

They showed me to a table where they asked me a few questions and gave me a form to fill out. After that, I went to sit in the waiting area — a big room with lots of chairs set up 6 feet apart from each other. I waited for a little while, and then my appointment time was called.

I got in line. At the front, they took my paperwork, gave me a number, and sent me into the big ballroom. I was directed into a curtained area where I met Mary, who would actually administer my shot.

I sat down next to her while she filled out a small white index card with the CDC logo on top: my official vaccination record. It shows which vaccine I would receive (Pfizer-BioNTech), the date I received it, and what lot it came from. I’d seen pictures of these cards on social media, but it was really exciting to see one with my name on it.

She gave me a couple of handouts, including one explaining what side effects I might experience. She said I’d probably have some pain in my arm, and would maybe experience some fever, aches, headache or tiredness. Those would be more likely after my second dose, though, she said.

She explained that they would keep me in a waiting area for 15 minutes after the injection to make sure that I didn’t have an allergic reaction. That would be “very rare,” she said, “but we want to be on the safe side.”

Then, it was time for the shot. Mary kept me chatting the whole time, which really put me at ease. She told me how she’s a part of a federal medical response team, and travels around to help after disasters.

“During these kinds of times, we get to help like with cool things like this,” she said.

After a quick pinch in the left arm, it was over. Mary walked me to the waiting room, where I made an appointment for my second dose. After I waited my 15 minutes, I was free to go. There was a swag table by the door, and I grabbed a button that says “I crushed COVID in Milwaukee.”

I plan to wear it when I come back for my second dose, in about three weeks.

The Department of Health Services anticipates that all Wisconsinites over the age of 16 will become eligible for the vaccine on May 1. To find appointments, you can check with your employer, your local health department, pharmacies or community-based vaccine clinics. You can also sign up via the Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccine Registry, which lets people sign up for a vaccine if they’re eligible or puts them on a waiting list if they aren’t yet in a priority group.

More information about finding vaccine doses in Wisconsin is available here.