An Early Adopter’s Story of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine—Or How I Got My Shot on Day 1 and What Came Next
Posted on March 24, 2021
The cocks crowed in Canberra greeting the dawn that crisp Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Here a federal government lay caught in a crisis of alleged rapes and misogyny its feather ruffling sweeping attention away from what should otherwise have been its prime concern: the nation’s existential fight against Covid-19.
Australia lived largely Covid-19-free. Yet, its Covid vaccine rollout had already proven a joke. Four million Pfizer and AstraZeneca twin-doses were promised by the end of March in the arms of those resident in aged care, their workforces and those running hotel quarantine. The government called it “Phase 1a”.
That Wednesday though, a mere 182,000 doses had been administered and the federal health minister Greg Hunt was about to exacerbate his mess announcing the roll out of Phase 1b—another six million people needing vaccinations beginning that coming Monday, March 22.
His announcement of an online booking “portal” going live kicked off the fracas. Those who hopped on soon after learned that the word “portal” was way off target.
They found instead a webpage filled with the telephone numbers of participating doctor’s surgeries (general practices or GPs). And these GPs didn’t know their numbers were being listed rather than links to a booking app.
Phase 1b covered Australia’s over 70s, its indigenous aged 55-plus, healthcare and emergency workers, and those with immune system conditions such as hypertension, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. They would receive the AstraZeneca “Oxford” vaccine. Yet no one was ready.
Wednesday then, started with me calling some of those GP clinics within a fourteen-kilometre radius of my home. Not all GPs were participating in this rollout. Mine definitely wasn’t. Maybe later but, “We don’t need that headache right now,” they said.
It’s no longer a secret that I qualified for Phase 1b. I have hereditary Type 2 diabetes. You see, I was outed when I gave some background research to Nine Entertainment’s The Age newspaper that day, who then quoted me at my most ineloquent—and next day in their Sydney Morning Herald. Warhol would be proud.
My contribution was a tale of fury and despair. Of how each and every GP I spoke to complained of endlessly ringing phones, of harried receptions and a total inability to take any bookings because vaccines had not yet been supplied. By that afternoon one practice told me they were just looking forward to going home for a drink: pure alcohol was mentioned. The debacle would continue into the weekend.
Late Sunday night just hours before Phase 1b theoretically began, I thought I’d browse the health system again. I scrolled through its pages of phone numbers and came across a sole GP clinic with a link to a booking app.
I clicked it.
There, starting at 8:40am running at ten-minute intervals through 12:10pm were slots for a “Covid-19 Vaccine Dose 1” shot.
Now, by nature I’m skeptical meaning I stared at those appointments for a bit. They didn’t change. So, I clicked on 8:40. It took my booking. And 15 minutes later I cancelled it. There was just no way one clinic could have its AstraZeneca vaccines and be so dependent on a scrolling fluke.
On Monday morning at 9:45am I called that clinic. My side of the conversation went like this:
I saw you had Covid vaccine appointments last night and I made a booking but cancelled it. Do you really have Covid vaccines in stock? Would you have a dose for me today?
An hour later I was at that clinic and forty minutes after that, I walked out with an AstraZeneca shot in my arm. That GP is now not taking Covid-19 Vaccine Dose 1 bookings till mid-April.
Here’s the bit I’m sure you’re most interested in. What happened to me next?
First up, the actual inoculation process exceeded my expectations for professionalism. Remember, this wasn’t my GP clinic. Yet here was a doctor and nurse team garbed in blue surgical fatigues, thoroughly polite, a production line of paraphernalia before them. The doctor updated my health records on her PC and the nurse jabbed me so deftly that I swear all I felt was her finger.
At this point, I must apologise for abandoning all journalistic pretence, for to be honest, I was as nervous as hell. This was a jab to protect me from Covid-19, a virus I’d been writing about for a year whose devastating health impact I knew all too well. Feeling somewhat transcendent, I forgot to ask the obvious background questions like where did my jab come from (definitely Europe)? And how many doses had the clinic received (likely no more than fifty)? But I can continue my story from there.
My arm didn’t hurt. Many around the world have complained of heightened pain and I know what that’s like recalling a cholera shot I once had as a kid flying to London via Perth and Bombay. I put that down to a Zen practice I adopt getting my annual flu shot. I kind of fall asleep for a few seconds and it apparently worked for this too.
Ten hours later though it started.
My temperature shot up.
It would peak as a low-grade fever and bounce up and down above 37 degrees Celsius for the next twenty-seven hours.
“Fever” and “chills” are common side-effects of most vaccines and they’re listed on the government’s AstraZeneca fact sheet all vaccine recipients are given on heading home, along with:
Pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or itching at the injection site; tiredness; headache; muscle pain; nausea; feeling unwell; and joint pain.
I’m almost at the forty-eight-hour mark post-vaccine, as I write. My temperature is normal and my arm feels a little bruised—honestly, I suffered more pain bumping a coffee table walking into the study.
As I understand it, for the next twelve weeks until my second shot, I’m now protected to a good degree against all grades of Covid-19, reducing my risk of passing the virus into the community and keeping me out of hospital should symptomatic Covid-19 still find its way inside. That’s precisely what the world needs at this moment: rendering Covid-19 obtuse.
Which all speaks to the future.
It’s too easy to think that now Covid-19 vaccines are making their way through the world, that the virus is over. It’s too easy to think that now’s the time to let international and personal guards down.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As Australia shows, nations with neglected manufacturing bases operate at the whim of global supply chains: in this case, burdened by a Herculean need to inoculate billions while encumbered by the Machiavellian machinations of nationalistic hubris underpinned by the ideology of personalistic leadership cults.
We are not talking an annual flu vaccine roll out here—a multinational logistical task in itself—where seasonal differences between hemispheres provide a supply reprieve. Here we face a competitive world trying to rid an existential viral threat at once but not as one.
It will not be achieved in 2021 nor likely 2022.
While we fathom that conundrum, we then need to pivot to what comes next. How long will two doses of Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax or AstraZeneca offer Covid-19 protection—equally a single dose of the yet to market Johnson & Johnson? When will further doses be required? How far apart? Will Covid-19 ever die? Can the world with its vaccine supply inequities ever truly reopen until it does? Can gaps in the vaccine umbrella let Covid-19 re-emerge and are we then back to a 2020-21 déjà vu?
Victoria, one of Australia’s toughest states in the country’s Covid-19 fight is just days away from removing its most significant virus prevention safety nets, having once again achieved zero Covid-19 cases across the board. Masks will no longer be worn in retail settings; workplaces will once again fill to capacity and one of the world’s largest sporting crowds since 2020 will pack 75,000 fans into the Melbourne Cricket Ground for tomorrow’s Australian Rules Football.
Two days ago, including me, Australia boasted just 282,000 Covid-19 vaccinations out of the 4,000,000 twin doses promised in March and the roughly 20,000,000 twin doses needed all up.
Inventor of the political techno-thriller fiction genre, Tom Clancy, would have labelled this achievement by its Russian name “maskirovka”—an act purporting to hide a vulnerability with feigned prowess: a deception, in other words. A sleight of hand.
Almost a year to the day when Australia began its first Covid-19 lockdowns, the country is pretending to open up under the protection of a vaccine regime that does not yet exist.
I’m thoroughly grateful that somewhere in this country’s bureaucracy someone cut a deal with Europe to put an AstraZeneca shot in my arm and I won’t need to worry about my next for a while. I’m thoroughly lucky that despite the Australian government’s best efforts, I managed to stumble upon a dose with my name on it when lies about the efficacy of a booking portal made it an almost certainty I wouldn’t.
Now, as in 2020, I sit back and watch my country once again shout at a viral devil. After so much has been achieved by its citizenry to quench its flames under so much sacrifice it can all be for nothing if hubris doesn’t die before Covid-19—and a proactive, visionary leadership doesn’t push to the surface of a controversy-soaked political morass.
Australia’s current government hasn’t passed muster. It needs a change. If only because I now have an AstraZeneca Covid-19 shot in my arm when those most at risk, those in aged care homes still won’t all have their promised Pfizer vaccines by the time Easter 2021 has come and gone.
It’s political fraud. It’s executive negligence. The prime minister got a photo op’s worth of Pfizer shots, both.
© 2021 Adam Parker.