Coloradans share their COVID-19 vaccine experiences

38,600 people in the state have received their first doses

Luke Gloystein
Luke Gloystein, food service manager at Saint Joseph Hospital, received the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020. (Courtesy of Luke Gloystein)

Luke Gloystein doesn’t treat COVID-19 patients, but he was one of the first Coloradans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

On Dec. 16, the food service manager at Denver’s Saint Joseph Hospital snapped a photo while a masked health care worker administered the first of Gloystein’s two doses. Gloystein posted the photo on Facebook and Nextdoor, hoping to encourage people who might be anxious about getting vaccinated — and to set an example for his employees.

“I was honored to be lucky enough to get one of the first doses, and I really hope that me sharing my experience with anybody who’s willing to listen will help them feel a little bit more safe,” Gloystein said.

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Gloystein, who had a sore arm and felt a bit tired the day after, speculates that he may have been able to get the vaccine earlier than he expected because some clinical workers at his hospital who work directly with COVID-19 patients — the highest-priority group under the state’s vaccination plan — didn’t get it themselves. Another possible factor: Health care workers found one extra vaccine dose in each vial they received from Pfizer and BioNTech, meaning they had about 20% more vaccine doses than anticipated.

As for his employees in hospital food service, Gloystein said, “A lot of them … are like, ‘Well, let me know and I’ll probably get it in the next round.'”

Gloystein’s employer, like other health care facilities in Colorado, didn’t require anyone to get vaccinated, he said.

“I’m trying to lead by example and show that I’m not scared to get it,” Gloystein said, adding that he shared his experience online to help “get the word out there that it is safe.”

In the week since the first group of Coloradans received the vaccine, other health care employees have done the same, posting smiling-eyed photos on Twitter and updating their followers about how they’re feeling after receiving the shot.

“24 hrs- feeling great!” a Denver-area Twitter user who goes by “Dr. Comilla” tweeted Dec. 21. “No side effects. Just feeling happy to know I am helping to protect myself, my family and my patients! #CovidVaccine.”

“Thankful to everyone involved in the development of the #CovidVaccine,” CU Anschutz resident Dr. Mayra Maymone wrote Dec. 21 with a selfie she posted on Twitter.

Coloradans have concerns about vaccine safety

According to a vaccination tracker from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, more than 38,600 Coloradans have received their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s short of the more than 56,000 doses Colorado received in its first shipment from Pfizer and BioNTech.

The state expected to receive 39,780 more Pfizer doses this week, 25,740 of which will be transferred to the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program for vaccination at skilled nursing facilities and 14,040 assigned to providers, according to a CDPHE spokesperson. Those numbers account for each vial of the Pfizer vaccine having six doses.

The state’s first 95,600 doses of a second vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical company Moderna, were expected to arrive Dec. 21 and 22.

While the federal Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only after reviewing extensive data from the manufacturer and receiving recommendations from an independent advisory panel of scientists, survey data show a large contingent of Coloradans have concerns about vaccine safety.

Of the 1,008 Colorado voters who responded to a December poll conducted by Magellan Strategies and Keating Research for Healthier Colorado, 60% said they planned on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, while 21% said they did not. The remaining 19% of respondents were unsure whether they would take it.

Three out of four Democrats planned on getting vaccinated, while 42% of Republicans said they planned to.

The poll also reflected disparities among racial and ethnic groups, some likely caused by mistrust of the health care system. Past atrocities committed against people of color — such as the decades-long Tuskegee Study, in which U.S. government researchers misled and withheld life-saving syphilis treatment from Black participants — have led to entrenched mistrust, experts say. Among white poll respondents, 61% intended to receive the vaccine, while 52% of Black respondents and 56% of Hispanic respondents said the same.

‘My civic duty’

In interviews with Colorado Newsline, Gloystein and others who were among the first to get vaccinated said that they had some side effects from the Pfizer vaccine, but nothing worse than what’d they’d expect from a flu shot. They hoped to encourage others to follow their lead.

As an interventional radiologist at CU Anschutz, Dr. Gordon McLennan uses X-ray technology to perform surgical procedures. Lately, his job often involves removing blood clots from the legs and lungs of COVID-19 patients.

McLennan, who also serves as vice chair of clinical research at the medical campus, posted photos of himself getting the COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to emphasize that members of the public should “get immunized” as soon as they can.

“There’s so much ridiculous, bad information that’s spewed out on the internet, and there’s no way to really tell what’s true and what’s not (without) folks like us telling patients, ‘Get yourself immunized, wear your mask,'” McLennan said. “And even if you are immunized, continue to wear your mask,” he added, noting that it’s still uncertain whether vaccinated people can transmit the coronavirus.

McLennan said he had an achey arm and felt a little tired after getting the shot. “Some people will have more feverish reaction, some people will have less,” he added. “They say that if you have a more febrile kind of reaction, it’s a good indication that the vaccine is actually working because it’s making your immune system rev up.”

“The fact of the matter is that this is our way out of this mess,” McLennan said. “We still are going to need to wear (personal protective equipment) at all times and maintain safe distance, and keep the bars closed for a while so that people don’t transmit this disease in greater numbers, but this is the way to sort of get things back to a more normal footing.”

Dr. Matthew Bartley posted a picture of his COVID-19 vaccination record card on Dec. 19, thanking surgery residents and attending physicians at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Bartley received the Pfizer vaccine at 6 a.m. Dec. 19 before a long day at the hospital checking on patients, he told Newsline in an email.

“The shot was completely painless and I have experienced zero symptoms since, not even a sore arm,” Bartley wrote. “No headaches, no fever, no body aches.”

The surgery resident said he was excited about the vaccine’s use of innovative messenger RNA technology, which instructs the body’s cells to produce a harmless piece of the coronavirus’ spike protein. This causes the immune system to create antibodies that protect it against future COVID-19.

Bartley said he understood people’s apprehension about something so new, but after taking care of so many COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, “I can’t imagine any ‘reaction’ being equal or worse than covid,” he wrote. “The science is sound. I get a flu shot yearly, I get a tuberculosis test yearly so the vaccine is honestly nothing new to me.”

Initially, Bartley wasn’t very worried about getting COVID-19 himself, he wrote, but gained concerns about the lasting effects of the disease, which can appear even in mild cases.

“I also worried about transmitting it to my parents or in-laws and how horrible I would feel if I was the vector for their death,” Bartley wrote. “This gives me a sense of relief and protection for myself and my family. I hope it works, works really well for a long time. I hope that health care workers getting it first and early will help allow the public to feel more comfortable and be more likely to get vaccinated themselves.”

Likewise, Dr. Nancy Dawson, a pediatrician in Colorado Springs, thought of getting vaccinated as “my civic duty, in a way.”

Still, she didn’t expect to get the vaccine as early as she did. She works in a private practice, not a hospital, and doesn’t interact with COVID-19 patients.

But Dawson said she received an email from UCHealth — where she used to admit patients — inviting her to make an appointment to get vaccinated. She signed up for a time slot at 4:39 p.m. on Dec. 18.

“I know it was 4:39, because they give you a little Post-it with your time on it … that tells you when to come back for your second dose,” Dawson said.

On a scale from 1 to 10, with “10 being the worst,” Dawson rated her side effects a 1. “I would say that I was kind of looking to see if I would feel crummy,” she said. “Little bit of a headache, little bit of muscle aches, little bit of fatigue.”

“The next morning when I went to yoga, to lift up my left arm where I had it, the deltoid … hurt a lot,” she added, noting that her arm might have been a bit more sore than if it were a typical flu shot.

Dawson said she knows four other people who’ve gotten the same vaccine and reported similar side effects. One person had a fever and chills.

Her practice isn’t requiring anyone to get vaccinated. “I stepped up and got it early when I could, the earliest I was able to,” she said. “I think there are others taking a wait-and-see approach.”

Dawson learned about the vaccine through health care provider town halls hosted by Children’s Hospital Colorado, where she got regular updates from infectious disease experts about the vaccine development process and safety data.

“I just felt it was important to show that I believed in this vaccine, and really that it is not just for me but for my almost-90-year-old mother, my patients who are immunocompromised,” she said.

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