The mental checklist of symptoms Aaron Fowler rattled off told him he had experienced this before.
The 100-plus-degree fever.
The numbing fatigue.
Fowler felt this way in February 2020 when he was with his daughter, Eliza, at a club volleyball tournament in Denver, just as the coronavirus began to take hold in the United States. He also had a persistent cough, which convinced Fowler he might have contracted the coronavirus.
He was reminded of the episode after he received his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last month. The symptoms he faced in Denver reappeared.
“I was in my bed. My fever was 101, 102 [degrees]. I had the heat cranked up to 80,” said Fowler, a real estate agent. “I had blankets on and was super sweaty, and that was almost for 36 hours.”
Fowler’s story — a benign reaction to the first dose of vaccine, a virulent outcome after the second — has been the subject of much conversation, if not anxiety, for those who’ve received or are about to receive their booster shot.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says possible side effects of all three vaccines available in the U.S. — the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version — include fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and nausea, along with a sore arm. But a new study based on CDC data, published last week in the journal JAMA, found a far higher rate of reactions to the Moderna vaccine, particularly after the second dose.
Reactions were more common among younger patients than those over 65, the journal reported.
More than a third of eligible New Mexicans, those 16 and older, have been vaccinated against the virus, and over half have had at least one shot, which means many residents are about to experience the second dose.
State health officials say, however, there is a silver lining to most side effects — they are a normal sign the body is building protection against COVID-19.
“Sometimes those side effects can be more intense with the second shot because you’re getting a sort of turbocharged immune system response triggered by the second vaccine,” said Hannah Long, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
For some, the booster had little to no impact.
Jaime Bencomo, a communications manager for the state Department of Transportation, said he received his second dose of the Moderna vaccine Friday and did not immediately feel any side effects.
The shot didn’t interrupt his scheduled trip to Rio Rancho to coach his son’s club baseball team.
“They [organizers] took my temperature and I didn’t have a fever,” Bencomo said. “They didn’t say, ‘You can’t come in.’ ”
Laura Carthy, a teacher at Capital High School, said she felt fine after her second dose of the Moderna vaccine, following a long nap she took during online office hours she usually had open for her students.
“I laid down for a second, and nobody was [online], and I was just flat-out sound asleep,” Carthy said. “That doesn’t happen to me, but other than that, I didn’t feel bad at all. I felt fine.”
Carthy said she took advice from her dad, a doctor, and her mom, a nurse, to take Tylenol and drink plenty of fluids, which she felt helped her not feel any side effects. Her husband, Gerry, suffered fever and chills two days after his second shot, but he recovered quickly after that.
The CDC recommends people talk to their doctor about taking over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin or antihistamines, for any pain and discomfort they might experience after vaccination. The agency does not recommend recipients take medication before vaccination to prevent side effects, and it urges people to call their doctor if side effects do not seem to go away after a few days.
Andrew Martinez, the head football coach at Santa Fe High, said he received his second Pfizer vaccine the day before the Demons played at Los Alamos on March 19 and experienced fatigue later that night. He said he felt tired for the next three or four days, but he was still on the sideline for the game and went to Taos to scout a football game the following day.
“I got myself up for a half of football, but I slept a lot Sunday and Monday,” Martinez said. “It just made me feel flat-out exhausted, but I wasn’t going to miss the game. I didn’t have a choice. That is my drive and everything. Thank God I have that.”
Arturo Delgado, the director of marketing and communications for Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, said its doctors recommend recipients plan a day of rest following their second shot because of the variety of side effects.
“Vaccine side effects, however, are far less severe than getting the virus itself,” Delgado noted.
Fowler concurred, saying he felt tired for about a week, but it was better than the alternative.
“I just kinda felt off, but I had felt so bad before that feeling better wasn’t nearly as bad,” Fowler said.