BLANCO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Jane Copeland felt blessed to be one of the first in Blanco County to get her COVID-19 vaccine. The Moderna shot in her right arm on Feb. 22 gave the 68-year-old a huge sense of relief and hope that she would finally be able to fly to England to visit her mom for the first time in months.
Copeland said she felt a little soreness in her arm, was tired and experienced some muscle pain — all things those who administered the shot, as well as people and resources on the internet, told her were normal. She took some Advil and Benadryl and didn’t think much about it, but said on Day 10 her condition drastically changed.
“All of a sudden that evening it was like somebody had stabbed me in my back shoulder blade,” Copeland said. “And my arm swelled up, my neck was swollen, I could hardly swallow, my face was swollen, my eyes were swollen — I’m still swollen.”
At one point, Copeland said her right elbow swelled to the size of a golf ball, and she couldn’t move her right wrist or hand. Copeland said she also felt pain in her chest, her right breast and developed a rash under her arms.
Her ear, nose and throat doctor in Austin prescribed a round of steroids, which helped, but the pain came back. Copeland said she is now on round number two of the steroids, and is on the mend.
Copeland said she has been advised by her doctors not to get the second shot. She said she is still thankful she got the first dose, and would do it over again. She knows her reaction was rare, and doesn’t want to deter people from getting the vaccine.
“If I had been able to go look up this kind of reaction and see that other people had it and what the normal course of action was and when I should go to the doctor, I would have been saved a great deal of angst, fear and pain,” Copeland said. “And if people know that as a consequence of what I’ve been through then maybe it helps somebody else.”
How to report side effects
Copeland said she and her doctor reported the unusual symptoms to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). It’s a website set up by the U.S. government for doctors, vaccine manufacturers and the public that’s supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
She thought she would hear back from someone with some guidance and advice, but Copeland said she has only received confirmation that the site received the information she provided.
VAERS is one of two tools the group of government agencies uses to track side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second option is through V-safe. The “after vaccination health checker” is a new smartphone app that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after someone gets the COVID-19 vaccine. The V-safe website says the app allows people to quickly tell the CDC if they have any side effects.
The site also states depending on answers to the web surveys, someone from the CDC may call to check-in and get more information. The tool will also remind users to get their second COVID-19 vaccine dose if they need one.
After learning about V-safe through KXAN, Copeland registered and reported her experience through the app.
What the data says so far
Last month, the CDC released the first month of COVID-19 vaccine safety monitoring data it gathered through VAERS and V-safe. Click here to read the full results.
The CDC said between Dec. 14, 2020 and Jan. 13, 2021, a total of 13,794,904 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in the United States. Out of the 6,994 reports VAERS received, 90.8% were classified as nonserious and 9.2% were reported as serious, including 113 (1.6%) deaths. The CDC found no evidence that those 113 people died due to getting vaccinated.
Headache (22.4%), fatigue (16.5%), and dizziness (16.5%) were the most frequently reported symptoms from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Sixty-two reports of the acute allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis have been confirmed, 46 (74.2%) after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 16 (25.8%) after the Moderna vaccine.
During the same time period, V-safe enrolled 1,602,065 vaccine recipients and reactions were similar between those receiving first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. According to the CDC, injection site pain, fatigue, headache, myalgia, and chills were most frequently reported.
Enrollees reported more reactions on the day after their vaccination than on any other day. For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, reactions were more frequent after the second dose than the first. The reported rate of fever and chills was more than four times higher after the second dose than after the first.