A small step in the right direction

The headache is pretty intense. Not necessarily extremely painful, but it is certainly different from your average headache. A strange kind of tension seems to hug the region surrounding the atlas, the element that connects the skull to the spine. A dull sensation – not sure if it is really pain – is flaring out along the sides of my head. It feels like I just tied my hear way too tight – which I just checked that I didn’t. The painful aspect is the pressure behind my eyes. A typical sensation that I have experienced a lot during, but also almost a decade after experiencing dengue fever. My overall sense of self is pretty fuzzy, too. As I wrote on Instagram earlier – it must be the feeling of intense gratitude.

My day was pretty miserable. I don’t mean to fall into victim mentality mode here, but I have been a life-long trypanophobe. The thought of a vaccination, however pleased I was to being allowed to receive it, messes up my system, and it makes me feel god-awful. There is something about putting needles deep into my flesh that puts my system in panick mode. It’s not the pain for sure, but it is hard to explain what part of ‘the idea’ that rubs me the wrong way. But it is annoying for sure. I can’t do much about my weird physiology – I’m the type of guy that faints – in response to needles. Or well, maybe I don’t faint anymore, but I used to. These days I ask to lie flat out and just very slowly rise and give myself a lot of time to recover. This strategy has worked well, in the sense that I don’t just drop to the floor when I faint. Not even the strongest person would be able to catch 92 kilograms of dead weight. Most health workers agree with me that it is better if I just lie down myself before gravity starts pulling on me too hard. It’s a pretty ridiculous fear to have, this fear of needles, but I’ll be honest that prefer to have this phobia over many others. Developing a fear of animals may be my biggest fear – I have many. (Fears and animals, that is) I am also totally happy with ridiculing my own fear of needles. It is pretty funny. I just joked with the nurse that the biggest guys were always the biggest sissies. She laughed out loud and nodded with a smile that her FFP2 mask couldn’t hide. I am not alone here.

So, the ribosomes in my cells have been working for a couple of hours now to translate the pieces of messenger RNA that I had injected into my left upper arm around 4.30PM. Using the RNA’s sequential code, the ribosomes bind together amino acids, to form what will eventually become proteins that have the same structure as the proteins that cover the virus responsible for the COVID19 pandemic. The body, not recognizing the proteins as its own, presents the particles to specialized immune cells. This sets in motion a complex cascade of responses involving various types of immune cells that rush through your veins. Some of them start producing antibodies that are specific to this viral protein, which the immune system can then use to quickly recognize and attack such proteins – generally associated with the virus, or a booster vaccination – in the future. Other cells are activated to help destroy infected cells. The human body has a pretty good clean-up crew. The idea is that after two vaccinations, your cells will have an elevated status of alertness – one that for many diseases can protect the body for years, or in some cases life-long.

I had hoped for a cool tiger band-aid like my son gets them when he gets his vaccination shots. Removing these is worse than the pinch caused by the needle – which made me feel like even more of a pussy.

I received my first of doses of Biontech/Pfizer vaccine today. I could not be more grateful to all the people that have worked in the past year to make this and other mRNA vaccines – which are a huge step to conquer this pandemic and so many other diseases in the future – a reality.

The world is still very far away from any sense of a new normal. There are many challenges ahead, including the fair and global distribution of vaccines. Importantly, it is in everyone’s interest to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible. Thus far, the vaccines have proven to be effective against the new varients that have arisen. However, mutations that may hamper the efficacy of the vaccinations are likely to eventually occur, and the simple fact is that the more people get sick, the more mutations will arise. Time is of the essence when it comes to global vaccination in order to end this pandemic.

So to end this story of gratitude on a positive note; people, keep wearing your fucking masks and wear them appropriately, wash your bloody hands, reduce your contacts drastically. No, it is not okay to play basketball with twenty other young adults. No a mask does not work if you leave your nose hanging out. Yes, distancing is still needed with a mask, however hard it can be. Most importantly, register to get your shots and get the fucking shots when they are offered to you. Thank you.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

3 thoughts on “A small step in the right direction

    1. That’s great to hear! Even though you had covid before, so technically it was a third jab? My brother in law also had covid and then vaccination kicked in pretty hard for him. My mother barely noticed anything from either jab. I still feel somewhat funny today (a very heavy head), and my arm is sore up to the wrist. I read a lot that younger people respond more strongly though, so perhaps that explains it?


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