A man jumps out of a plane with a parachute. Photo by Ricardo Gomez on Unsplash.

Diary of a Vaccinista: Life After the COVID-19 Vaccine

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I’m not your typical vaccinista. I didn’t post selfies or go around telling everyone I got the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I got the shots.

That’s because I’ve been fully vaccinated since early December, thanks to a clinical trial.

I’ve been living the vaccinated life for five months now. While it’s been lonely for most of it, I am now sharing enjoyable moments with vaccinated friends.

So what it is like to be vaccinated for months now?

Here’s what I can share from my experience, what I’m calling the three stages of re-entry into vaccinated life.

  1. Anxiety

I’m not an anxious person by nature. Yet, the thought of being in a crowded indoor space made me feel like I was jumping from a plane with a parachute for the very first time.

You get the vaccine (or parachute). You read up on the science (or training manuals). But you still need to take that giant first leap into the unknown.

The first time I traveled by plane was a little over three weeks after my second dose. I went alone to my brother’s wedding and avoided eating and drinking the many hours it took so I could keep my mask on the entire time.

During my brief stay, I touched no one and kept my distance. I was relieved to come home but anxious again. I forbade my family from touching me or getting near. We had no family dinners while I watched for symptoms to develop.

Only after two weeks did I finally relax. I did not catch COVID-19, despite the fully packed flights and airport terminals filled with people (some masked and some not. Police came to my gate three times to remove people who wouldn’t keep theirs on).

The second time I flew was in late March.  Announcements reminded everyone to wear a mask, which travelers did. I ate and drank, lifting my mask only to take a quick bite or a sip.

The planes and terminals were just as crowded, but I felt much better about the experience. I only spoke to people from a distance and, of course, maintained personal hygiene during the entire trip. Once I returned home, I watched for symptoms for only five days before fully relaxing.

Compelling family reasons got me flying the first time — that was a huge step to take only three weeks out. If I could do it again, I’d probably have chosen a much more manageable crowded setting at one or two months out, instead.

But, I’d still need to test my immunity at some point if I am going to experience the benefits of being vaccinated.

You’re going to be scared. This is completely normal. Trust the science and maintain precautions. You can do this.

2. Negotiation

It’s going to take time before any population (your town, your state, our country, the planet) reaches herd immunity. That means you will constantly be making calculations about the risks of encountering mixed groups of vaccinated and the “unknown unvaccinated.”

For small outings with people you know and trust, the decision is easier. You can have lunch outside or inside a home with your friend or family member who you know is protected against COVID-19.

However, the calculus changes when the group gets larger and the settings shift between outdoor and indoor.

I’m not going to tell you how to negotiate this process other than share what I do in these cases.

If I’m uncomfortable with a proposed outing, I opt out. You can, too. 

If anything, the pandemic has made it acceptable to bow out of invitations without going into details. Plus, bringing someone spontaneously along to a friend’s house for dinner, for example, will be a huge no-no.

We’ll be gaining so much experience in negotiating the risks for every single social situation because the pandemic isn’t vanishing any time soon.

Vet your invitations. Who’s coming? Where will it take place? Have the invited been vaccinated? If you aren’t satisfied with the outcome, then just say no.

3. Acceptance

Welcome to the new normal.

My teen adapted to wearing a mask and physically distancing when he returned to school six months ago. Six months of remote learning were really wearing him down.

And yet, I can see cracks in his re-entry, signs of stress from going to school in person during a pandemic.

We all are experiencing stress from living during a pandemic that isn’t disappearing anytime soon.

So what can we all do? I’m suggesting acceptance.

It doesn’t mean we like what’s happening, far from it. Yet, struggling against it causes undue suffering.

Life will change, and so will our lives. Some day the virus will be endemic and less virulent, more vaccines will be available, we will reach herd immunity.

Change is inevitable.

Until things change, give yourself (and everyone else) some slack. Look at each day as an opportunity to practice acceptance.

Anxiety. Negotiation. Acceptance. Some days in my new vaccinista life, I experience all three stages!

Don’t be surprised if you feel all. the. emotions. on a single day. And if it feels like it’s too much to process, please remember to reach out to a lifeline. Text your friend. Call your mom or dad. Connect with your siblings, colleagues, neighbors.

We can do this. Promise.

The featured image is of a man with a parachute jumping from a plane—photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash.

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