…we are checking “Getting our vaccines” off the to do list…
I know not everyone has had a seamless experience when trying to get a vaccine, but the process Won and I had went pretty flawlessly.
Late last year, when news that vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency would begin flowing into the country and into people’s arms, Portugal initiated a plan of action which prioritized groups of people who were most at risk. The ultimate goal of the plan is to get the majority of the population (10.2 million people) inoculated with at least one dose by the end of this summer.
Things got underway on December 27, 2020 when the first doses were administered. Based on the published vaccination plan, Won and I knew that people in our age group and health status would potentially have access to the vaccine sometime in May. We also knew that because we had secured our residence permits last year and signed up with the National Health Service, we would be proactively notified when it was our turn to get the jab.
The plan was moving along well until the third week of January, when AstraZeneca announced that problems at their Belgian plant would significantly impact the supply available to the European Union. AstraZeneca said they were going to reduce the number of doses they had promised to deliver by March 31 from 80 million to 31 million doses. This news came at a time when Pfizer announced they would be reducing the output of its vaccine to allow for upgrades to its facilities leaving the European Union with a significant shortfall on its requirements. All of this unwelcome news coincided with reports about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Needless to say, vaccination programs across the Europe Union were thrown into a tizzy.
With this as a backdrop, Won wasn’t convinced things would go smoothly nor that the process would work the way it had been laid out. He didn’t think we would be vaccinated by end of summer. I, on the other hand, had complete and total faith in the system. I was convinced we would be vaccinated, or at least have received the first of two shots, by the end of May…end of June at the latest. (I am generally a very optimistic person, but also, most of my career was spent working for big, complex, global organizations. I know that large-scale, complicated projects always have challenges, but that people are generally committed to getting issues resolved and plans back on track as quickly as possible. There was too much at stake with a deadly virus wreaking havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods. I figured it would be resolved quickly enough.)
As I predicted, the problems with the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines were sorted out sufficiently enough to enable vaccination programs to ramp back up. Of course, I’m oversimplifying an extremely complicated and messy situation for the purposes of this post. If you are interested in learning more, click here.
Initially, the only way to get a vaccine in Portugal was to wait for the National Health Service (SNS )to proactively contact you. Then, in late April, the SNS launched a website allowing people to schedule an appointment directly. Access to appointment dates and times, however, were based on age and health status reflecting the framework of the vaccination program.
Given the pent up demand to get vaccinated, and the number of people attempting to access the site all at once, it was not surprising that there were reports of frustration and confusion. Many appointments had to be rescheduled resulting in local news coverage about the initial challenges that first week. The kinks were worked out pretty quickly and the only news stories we then heard were that more and more people were being vaccinated. Won would periodically log on to the site to see if we could schedule our appointments, but our age groups had not yet been green-lighted.
Then, late Friday evening (May 7), Won received a text message from the SNS. It informed him that I had been scheduled to receive a vaccine shot on Tuesday, May 11 at 13:53 (1:53 PM). [I should stop here and tell you that no one in Portugal uses the AM/PM designation, they all use military time, so if you are planning to move here, start to think in that format.] The message said to reply with my SNS number and “sim ou não” (yes or no) by Saturday, May 8 to accept. We both looked up at the clock. It was 20:50 (10:50PM). We were not sure if we had to reply by the stroke of midnight or sometime the next day, but we did not want to take any chances. Won immediately replied on my behalf and received a confirmation of the appointment in return. [The reason the text message was sent to Won and not me is because I am still using my US phone number which is associated with Sweet Pea’s microchip; I do not have a local mobile number mainly because I do not want to carry two phones. I am putting that off for as long as I can.]
This was great! My appointment had been proactively scheduled just as I had anticipated. The very next day, Won decided to log on to the SNS scheduling site to see if he could get an appointment. He had no problem this time and the first appointment that popped up was for 10:23AM on Friday, May 14…his birthday. I wanted him to find another day, because I did not want him to be suffering post-injection symptoms while we were trying to celebrate. He said it was not a big deal and went ahead and confirmed the appointment. (Now who was being overly optimistic??)
On Tuesday, May 11, Won decided to come with me so he would know the drill when it came time for him to get his shot. The venue was a local high school gymnasium and there were loads of people wearing “volunteer” vests directing folks on where to stand, where to go next, and what to do each step of the way. We got in line outside and were asked almost immediately what my vaccine time was and whether this was my first or second dose. The line was not that long and it was moving, but we were pulled out of line and walked in, I assume so that we could begin the process by my appointment time. I was very impressed. Most of the volunteers were young people, which meant they spoke English. Everything ran very efficiently. I filled out a form that asked me some health-related questions and then waited for one of the private booths where they were administering the injections to become available.
The gymnasium was filled with older people going through the process of being vaccinated. They seemed a lot older than me and it finally occurred to me that many of them were likely getting their second shot. We sat and waited for about 20 minutes until it was my turn. Inside the booth there was one nurse in front of a laptop and one who would administer the shot. They wanted to know if I had any questions, so I asked what the post-injection reactions would be and how quickly they would appear (I was worried that it might affect our plans for Won’s birthday Friday night). Won’s question was, “Can I drink the night I get the vaccine?” The answer was yes, and we both high-fived each other. That made the nurses laugh.
Immediately after getting my injection (the AstraZeneca vaccine), I asked when I could receive Dose #2? The nurse behind the laptop did some quick typing and said, “Tuesday, August 4th.” WHAT?!? She said they were scheduling the vaccines 12 weeks apart. Groan…I was really hoping to be all done within three to four weeks. [After the fact we did some research and learned it was a benefit to wait; “A pooled analysis published in the journal Lancet in late February suggests there isn’t much of a deleterious effect on COVID antibodies with a longer gap between the first and the booster dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, with preliminary evidence suggesting it actually may be a more effective biological strategy than a shorter time between shots.” So, I guess…OK.]
After receiving my injection, I was handed a small card with a QR code, the date and type of my first vaccine, and the date of the second noted. I was then directed to a waiting area where I was given a small bottle of water and some crackers in a sealed bag and told to wait thirty minutes so I could be observed.
Once I had been given the green light to leave, we headed out to the mall to run some errands. By the end of that evening I had not experienced any reaction to the vaccine. The next morning I got up, showered, and put on my makeup in anticipation of taking care of a few errands that day. At about 10AM I told Won I was feeling a little achy and tired. Within about an hour I needed to lay down. And, that’s where I stayed for the remainder of the day. I took one paracetamol (the equivalent of a Tylenol) to address what felt like was a bit of a fever (I didn’t even bother taking my temperature). I had a nasty headache, was generally achy, my skin was sensitive, my eyes were very light sensitive, and I was really tired. I didn’t have much of an appetite and the injection site hurt too.
The next day, I was just fine with the exception that the injection site was still sore.
Friday morning, Won went by himself to get his first dose of the same vaccine. Everything went just the way it did for me on Tuesday. We were able to make our dinner reservations that evening and celebrated Won’s birthday at a great place along the ocean called Furnas do Guicho. Please note…we are total crap at taking selfies. Won is still learning how to smile naturally and I generally get the giggles as we execute take after take attempting to get a good shot. The one below is the best out of the bunch, which validates my points extremely well.
At the restaurant, we were seated outside on the patio. The ocean was relatively calm that evening so the waves weren’t reaching up too high (we were told that at times the waves can crash over the dining patio and they have to close!). By the time dessert came, Won was feeling really cold and was beginning to shake. We called it a night and headed home. He crawled straight into bed.
His symptoms mirrored my own, except that he was a lot more feverish and needed to take paracetamol several times the next day. He also didn’t bounce back quite as fast as I did, but felt pretty good by Monday and played a good round of golf – the ultimate measurement of how well he was feeling. His second dose is scheduled for August 7. This means we will be fully vaccinated and as protected as we can be by August 22 (two weeks after Won’s second dose).
We are both so happy that we have some protection against this scourge of a virus. We continue to wear our masks in public places, maintain social distancing, and keep our hands clean. No vaccine provides a 100% protection, so being vigilant is in our own (and others’) best interest.
Won and I can now be counted among the 4,673,916 people who have received a vaccination in Portugal by the end of May 20. That represents 45.8% of the population. I’m confident Portugal will reach its goal of getting a shot into the arm of every resident of Portugal – who wants a vaccine – by the end of summer!
Completely off topic, but for anyone who has been curious about the status of our car registration and my driver’s license…no word yet. I submitted the paperwork for the car on January 6 and my license on January 7 (click here to read what was involved regarding the car and, if you have the stamina, click on the “Next Post” link at the bottom of that page to read the next one). Apparently, the national lockdown that began on January 15 backed everything up even more than usual. Nothing to do, but wait…
Next week, it’s back to pretty pictures! We are headed to out see the 18th century Palácio e Jardins do Marquês de Pombal (palace and gardens of the Marquês de Pombal). Pombal played a significant role in the rebuilding of Lisbon after the devastating and destructive 1755 earthquake so I thought it was time to see where he used to live and learn a bit more about him.
I truly hope that you have already been vaccinated or will be as soon as possible.
Until next time, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,