Infectious Disease

Endocrinologist E. Dale Abel shares his expertise with COVID-19 vaccines

December 22, 2020

4 min read

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On December 18, the FDA in the U.S. granted emergency approval to use a second COVID-19 vaccine, clearing the way for millions more doses to be shipped to health facilities across the country as the pandemic worsened.

Distribution of the first COVID-19 vaccine, a messenger RNA vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, is already underway nationwide, and frontline workers across the country have begun receiving the first of two doses. Experts have suggested that doctors need to start preparing their patients – and themselves – for the vaccination. In a December 3 poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only 47% of 1,117 adults said they were getting vaccinated, while 26% said they weren’t getting a vaccine, and 27% were still not for sure .

Source: E. Dale Abel

Healio spoke to E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine and Director of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine and immediate past President of the Endocrine Society on his experience as part of the first wave of clinicians to receive the COVID-19 Vaccine, the symptoms he experienced after receiving his first dose, and the need for better education to address vaccine reluctance, especially in under-represented communities.

What was going through your head when you found out you were going to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Abel: I consider it an amazing privilege to be among the first to receive the vaccine. There are many others who deserve more. My facility made a decision that in addition to immunizing frontline workers, especially those in the COVID-19 care units, institutional leaders should also be vaccinated early to show that we were committed as both leaders and individuals to get the vaccine. As you can imagine, there is a lot of vaccination skepticism even among health professionals. With that said, I felt an obligation to do so and share my experience. I want people to understand that I believe the vaccine is safe and the vaccine is effective.

Can you guide us through your vaccine experience?

Abel: I knew it would happen that day, but I didn’t know when. As you can imagine, logistical issues with the number of cans and anything that had to stay frozen meant things had to land with military precision. I received an email that basically said, “Your slot will open in 30 minutes, please come here.” I had to rearrange some things and then walked over. I knew they wanted a videography to share, so a colleague met me in the hallway and we took some footage. I had to check in and met a colleague in the intensive care unit. We stood socially distant to register and then took the “vaccination walk” to get vaccinated.

Then it dawns on you: I’m about to get that shot. I have certainly had vaccinations before, like my annual flu vaccine, but that was different.

Dale Abel

The nurse asked me which arm I have and whether I would rather stand or sit. I decided to sit. The brain can do fun things, right? The brain can rethink things. The last thing I wanted was to kneel shakily in front of the camera. It was a very fine needle, and I didn’t feel it when it went in – but I felt a cool liquid enter my arm. It has to be kept frozen so it was cold at the time. It wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling, but I felt this cold. Then it was over. I got up to make sure I was fine, and so was I. There is a bit of fear as you can imagine. You may have read that some people in the UK had acute reactions after receiving the vaccine. I then went back to my office.

What were your symptoms, if any, after receiving the vaccine?

Abel: I went back to work as usual and returned home that evening. The only symptom I had at the time was a mild headache. I would describe it as the feeling you get when you think you are having a headache. I took paracetamol before dinner. The next morning my arm was a little sore and I felt a little warm – not feverish, just warmer than usual. I took my temperature and it was 98 degrees. My temperature is usually 97.4 degrees so this was a mild fever for me. I took more acetaminophen, drank a glass of water, and did my usual morning exercise, where I exercised lightly. These symptoms didn’t stop me that day. The tenderness in my arm gradually subsided and by the end of the second day I felt fine.

I am deliberately talking about these symptoms because my symptoms have been minimal. I will get my next dose of the vaccine in the first week of January and plan to tweet the experience live. I want to let people know exactly what to expect. I’ve heard that some have more symptoms after receiving the second dose.

You mentioned the hesitation of the vaccine. What responsibility do you feel not only as a healthcare provider and endocrinologist, but also as a black clinician?

Abel: I think it’s very important to share my experiences. I see myself as a role model for many. As a black person, it is important that I be a public example of how to accept science and bring something into my body that I believe will play an important role in ending this pandemic.

The other point I want to make is that even though I am vaccinated, I will still be wearing my mask. We don’t yet know if immunization – which means I probably won’t get a clinical disease – means I can still carry the disease. We will see. Until we have an answer, I will keep doing things that protect others.

Reference:

  • AP-NORC. The AP-NORC Center survey of December 2020. December 3, 2020. Available at: https://apnorc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/topline_vaccine.pdf. Accessed December 21, 2020.

For more informations:

E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, can be reached at drcadmin@uiowa.edu.

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