Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine While on Immunotherapy

When the vaccine for COVID-19 was released, I immediately sat down with my oncologist to discuss the pros and cons of me personally getting the vaccine. Primarily we were concerned about how my immunotherapy may react to a vaccine that we generally knew the concept of how it worked, but it had not yet been studied in patients on immunotherapy. We came to the conclusion that it would be safer to mitigate any kind of vaccine reaction rather than try to treat me if I contracted COVID.

How does immunotherapy work?

A quick background. Immunotherapy works to fight cancer by using your own immune system. If I get a major infection (like COVID), I would need to be put on heavy doses of steroids to essentially “turn off” or weaken my immunotherapy to then treat the infection. Not only would this be hard on my body while fighting the infection, but it would open the door for my cancer to spread. My medical team and I decided this was a bridge we did not want to cross if at all possible.

Making the appointment for my first dose

So, when the State of Georgia opened vaccine appointments to cancer patients, I hopped online that morning to book my first dose. On March 13th, I received my 1st dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Later that day, I experienced a little fatigue that required a solid nap and then my arm felt like Stone Cold Steve Austin had sucker punched me in my left arm. The soreness was pretty bad, but some ibuprofen and time were all it took to get back to normal.

A swollen lymph node

Within 24 hours there was zero soreness and I couldn’t tell you where exactly the injection went in. The only true adverse side effect I experienced was a swollen lymph node under my left arm. This was visualized on the CT scan I had the following week as part of my Keytruda protocol. A swollen node was expected and my CT showed no other issues that may be related to the vaccine.

Making preparations to stay hydrated and nourished

Fast forward to April 13th and it was time for my 2nd dose. I was a little wary because I had seen a vast array of side effects from my friends and family and the range of severity was all across the board. My grandparents had zero side effects, while my mom had 1 rough night post-injection and my own oncologist said it knocked her down for 2 full days. Knowing this, I made sure to prepare myself. I picked up some Gatorade and soup so I could make sure I stayed hydrated and nourished if I started to feel bad. At the suggestion of my oncologist, I started taking ibuprofen right after my injection and took the ibuprofen every four hours throughout the day (while checking my temperature periodically) to hopefully stave off any severe soreness and especially fever. I also made sure to drink plenty of water during the day. I chronicled my day on Instagram for my own research and to help other cancer patients/immunotherapy patients understand what their side effects could be.

How I felt after the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

  • 1 hour post-vaccine - slight soreness and a little bit of a burning sensation at the injection site
  • 4 hours post-vaccine - soreness began settling in at the injection site
  • 8 hours post-vaccine - everything went downhill

8 hours after my vaccine

Around 6 PM the night of my 2nd dose, I found myself feeling “chilly” even as I was sitting outside in 80-degree weather. That’s when I knew a fever was coming. Over the next 24 hours, I cycled through fevers pretty much every four hours. I peaked at 102 briefly but was able to manage my fevers with Tylenol and Gatorade. I really only started feeling better a full 36 hours later. So, shot on Tuesday and by Thursday morning I could tell I was turning the corner.

Resting and rehydrating

Once my last fever broke I just spent the remainder of the day resting and rehydrating. One perk of having an ostomy is the ability to have direct feedback on hydration levels. Even though I was drinking so much water and Gatorade, the fevers still managed to have some significant impact on my hydration levels and I could tell via a darker colored output and less output overall.

Now two weeks later, I am fully vaccinated and happy to not only be doing my part in protecting myself but the people around me.

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