Adventures With COVID-19 & Vaccination

Photo: Bonny Zeh's story begins with her shopping for supplies to make origami like her folded paper dog.

Photo: Bonny Zeh's story begins with her shopping for supplies to make origami like her folded paper dog.

After I had COVID I was vaccinated. COVID-19 is no joke, and I only had a mild to moderate case of COVID. I had side effects from the vaccine—they aren’t that bad—COVID is worse, and I know the difference from personal experience.

​My COVID-19 story

Last month, in all likelihood, I caught COVID-19. In fact, my doctors are certain that I did catch it, even though I was unable to get tested.

I know how I caught it. On February 11, I went to Porter Square, to the going out of business (after 37 years) of the Japanese gift shop, Tokai. This was my favorite source of good quality origami paper and I wanted to stock up. After visiting this store for the last time, I visited a café, ordered a sandwich and a chai latte. I sat as far away from others as I could. Unfortunately for me, over 20 feet away were two university students, working on their computers with their masks off, talking and coughing. People should know better—don't go out when you think you might be coming down with something. Stay home. If you are a member of an organization that has a COVID-19 protocol, such as a college or university, report that you might be sick and follow the rules. Don't be like the two students who gave me COVID-19. As soon as they realized that they were sick, they were required to self quarantine and report it to the Director of Student Health Services.

Six days later, I was sick. I spent three days in bed, getting up only for absolute necessities. Fortunately, I had at least two weeks of supplies on hand, for both my cat and me, so I went into quarantine. When I began to feel better, but was terribly weak, I tried to get a COVID-19 test. I live in West Somerville and I don't have a car. I could not find a COVID-19 test site close to me, where I did not have to put essential workers at risk—because I would have needed a cab—in order to get a test. I live about three quarters of a mile from Davis Square, Somerville. Davis Square has two groceries, a pharmacy, two primary care practices, restaurants, clothing stores, a large subway/bus station and some empty storefronts. Given the number of people who pass through Davis Square, you would think this would be an ideal location for COVID-19 testing. At the beginning of the pandemic, Somerville Hospital, not far from Davis Square, did offer COVID-19 testing, but had discontinued it.and I had a mild to moderate case of COVID,

I spoke to a friend who is a retired professor who taught public health in a local college. She told me, at that time, to assume that I have COVID-19 and to quarantine. Since I have carefully followed the recommendations: social distancing, mask wearing, washing my hands, it's unlikely that I exposed others to it.

Fortunately, I had a mild to moderate case of COVID-19. COVID-19 shares a lot of the same features with a severe common cold. So when I got sick, I assumed I had a nasty cold, but, unlike the university students, I didn't take any chances. I went into quarantine. When able, I did try to get tested, but found that was impractical. The reasons why my doctors are sure I had COVID-19 is that I had a loss of smell and I had diarrhea when I was at my worst. I am doing fine and my health is improving day by day. It takes time to recover—a month or more.

Because seniors and persons with disabilities are at elevated risk for a bad outcome if they catch COVID-19, those living in senior housing (whether subsidized or not) should be routinely screened. Since the colleges and universities regularly screen their students (Harvard University does this biweekly), why can't we be regularly screened?

Furthermore, it should be easy for those who think they are coming down with a cold or for those who are actively unwell to get a COVID-19 test, in a way that they do not have to put essential workers, or the community at large at risk. There are various ways this could be done. People who are at elevated risk for a bad outcome from COVID-19 could be given at-home test kits, with instructions to use it should they feel ill. There could be a system, similar to visiting nurses, where those who think they might be ill, who are quarantined, could call a number to arrange for a mobile testing van to come to their homes.

​My vaccination story

I got my COVID-19 shot last Friday, March 19 in the Community Room of my building, Weston Manor. It was administered by the City of Somerville Health Department in conjunction with the Somerville Housing Authority—Shannon Bennet, Director of Resident Services, as well as the Somerville Counsel on Aging. A lot of people worked hard to see that this happened, and I wish I could thank them all personally.

I am grateful that this happened. My building has shut-in residents, who, would have found it extremely difficult to get to a vaccination site. In fact, we, the residents, decided that the shut-ins and the mobility impaired got to jump the line and be vaccinated first. According to building rumor, our building had an excellent turn-out at the vaccination clinic—nearly everyone who signed-up to be vaccinated got vaccinated.

Initially, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health, we who live in project based subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled were not going to be prioritized. The powers that be did not appreciate that we who live in elderly/disabled housing are all at elevated risk. Moreover, if we get COVID-19, we could accidentally spread it to our neighbors who might be frail. According to Pat Jehlen, my state senator, many senior citizen advocates, including the director of the Medford Housing Authority along with the Stop Bullying Coalition, contacted their legislators about this. Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition, was interviewed on WBUR, one of Boston's public radio news stations.

I am glad that other communities with subsidized senior citizens/persons with disabilities housing are doing onsite vaccination clinics. I understand that a few days ago, the Salem Health Department held a vaccination clinic in their senior citizens/persons with disabilities apartment buildings. The Salem Health Department is going to hold a vaccination clinic for residents of Fairweather Apartments in Peabody, where Jerry Halberstadt lives.

Please don't let reports of side effects from the COVID-19 vaccination scare you off. I have a long history of medication intolerances / severe side effects from medications. I have had COVID-19. I did have side effects from the vaccination. Compared to what it's like having COVID-19, the side effects from the vaccination are mild and bearable. I did have chills, brain fog, a mild headache, a cough, soreness at the vaccination site. For me, the worst of the side effects happened between 24 and 48 hours after the shot. I know many people who have had the COVID-19 vaccination and had very mild to no side effects from it. Among my friends, I had the worst side effects. I do not regret getting vaccinated, not in the least.

Even if you had COVID-19, you still need to be vaccinated. There are several new variants, and we don’t yet know how effective each vaccine is against each of the new virus strains. For example, the Johnson & Johnson / Janssen COVID-19 vaccination is effective against the South African variant of COVID-19. It has been successfully tested against the Brazilian variants.

Each of the three vaccines approved for use in the United States is safe and effective. Public health officials don't want people to ‘vaccine shop,’ because the sooner people get vaccinated, the better. However, public health officials should realize that there are people who need a particular manufacturer's vaccine, because they are known to be intolerant of an ingredient in a particular vaccine. People like me should be accommodated-and not be called names when, for legitimate safety reasons, we refuse a vaccine and insist on receiving a different product. I received the Johnson & Johnson / Janssen shot, the one I needed because of my medical history.