Reporter’s Notebook: Steve Ohnesorge shares experience receiving COVID-19 vaccine

'Relief': WBTV's Steve Ohnesorge gets second dose of vaccine

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - History does repeat itself.

What a year. Started with a minor outbreak of a virus no one had heard of. Experts put the term “novel” in front of the name. The president pushed for a vaccine and started an effort to vaccinate everyone in America. Vaccine clinics began in gymnasiums, at ballfields, community centers, and health departments. Fears of the virus led to high demand, low supply, and long lines at clinics. The images were plastered on television every night. I remember it well. I was at many clinics with a TV camera on my shoulder.

It was 1976. The virus was the Novel Swine Flu. The nation was gripped in fear and 43 million people were vaccinated before experts determined the swine flu was not so bad after all. Very few fell victim to the virus, actually, but the vaccine itself caused hundreds to become ill. Thankfully, back then in 1976, the predictions of a 1918-style pandemic did not come true.

But here we are, 45 years later. We’re in it again. This time people really are dying. There is no place on earth to escape the Novel Coronavirus. We are told to wear masks and keep our distance. Many streets are empty, a president is pushing for a vaccine, and now clinics are being held again in gymnasiums, ballfields, community centers and health departments. Fears have brought lines back and once again, I am seeing them through my TV camera. The images are in living rooms every night with pictures of the shot representing hope, shown alongside the grim numbers of death. Tens of millions have been vaccinated so far with many, many millions to go. We are told the liquid in those little vials of vaccine is the weapon that will beat today’s version of a “novel” virus.

This is not 1918. This is not 1976. This is 2021, and science, we hope, is better now.

Yet, some folks refuse to get vaccinated. That’s their choice. Maybe their minds will change as they see families touched by tragedy or the rising tally of those getting the vaccine. Personally, I don’t like needles. Never have. Since the beginning, though, I’ve been ready to get in line. My job is about people, and being around them. I was at the ACC Tournament last March with thousands when the word came down to disperse. There have been press conferences and events where media have been shoulder to shoulder, crowded protest marches, vigils, and stories of people from all walks of life. I’ve kept a mask on, and kept my distance when possible, but the odds are, at some point, I have been in contact with the virus. As a reporter who is in the community all the time, it’s like playing dodgeball with an invisible adversary. I’ve been lucky, but how long can that last? With a new grandson and a wife that worries about me, my only question about getting vaccinated was when?

Being many months past my 66th birthday, and my wife not far behind, we waited our turn. There had been offers for us to step in line but the desire to do so was outweighed by the determination to follow the rules. (You can blame my parents for that). In January, the door opened for people aged 65-and-up. We could call to schedule an appointment or wait in line in the counties that allowed walk-ups. My wife started calling at 8 a.m. one morning, and I joined in not long afterwards with a second phone. We each dialed dozens of times hoping to hear the awful hold music (it always is) that says we got through. Success didn’t come until after 10 a.m. The irritating music blaring out of the speaker phone was interrupted only by a voice that kept saying there were “ten callers ahead” of us. We kept that phone on hold, and continued trying on the second phone and searched websites, too. We even found an appointment in one county for April 21 and just as we were ready to commit, a voice came up on the phone that had been on hold for an hour and nine minutes.

“Hello, Hello” she said. We both exhaled with relief. Within minutes we had appointments set up a few days away. It was like winning a radio station contest where the 5,000th caller gets the prize.

The first vaccine shot went off without a hitch. My arm was sore and just as I had seen at so many clinics before, no one in the after-the-shot waiting area showed aftereffects. We saw old friends, and spoke with new ones. The look of fear was gone from the eyes; instead I saw hope.

Though there was one more shot to go in a few weeks, you could tell everyone there felt as if they were on the road leading out of the land of uncertainty, tragedy and fear. That might be a dramatic description, but those elements certainly were there.

For people worried about side effects I will say this: The first shot (I got the Pfizer vaccine) did make my arm burn a bit and it was sore for a day or two. But that’s it.

Fast forward three weeks. My second shot. Many who had the second dose before had warned me that I would feel it. I planned ahead and took a little time off, to be sure. For months, my wife and I had thought about this day. We worried it might never happen. But this past Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 10, at 12:05, it did. All that time of worry came down to just a few seconds, and it was over.

About those after effects everyone warned about? Many people feel no adverse reactions. Hours after the second dose, though, I did. My arm started burning, and was sore enough to make it tough to raise above my head. About 10 p.m., my joints started aching some, then the thermometer showed a fever above 100. Any other time with those symptoms I would feel sick and sad and wonder when I would get better. Not this time. The side effects, I’m told, means the vaccine is working. Instead of feeling bad, I felt a sense of elation and relief.

It’s 24 hours now since I got that second shot. My fever is dropping, the arm not quite so sore. The aches in my joints are still there but what do you expect, I’m 66! To have that second dose behind me is a sense of relief. I feel very lucky to have gotten the vaccine. Who would have thought a year ago that one would be available, let alone, needed? I have hopes many more will follow my path.

I say that knowing it is up to the individual. It was a person’s choice 45 years ago and is a personal choice in today’s world, too.

I look back at 1976 at all that happened then, and hope one day people will do the same about 2020 and 2021. I see them gathering around the dinner table on a holiday to tell stories about days long since passed. Someone will surely look at the little ones and say, “When I was your age we had to wear masks everywhere we went and guess what? I had to get a shot to survive.”

- Steve Ohnesorge.

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