My upper left arm was sore and swollen, and I ached all over.

No, I didn’t have the flu, though the symptoms were similar.

On March 1, I had the vaccine for shingles known as Shingrix, and those symptoms are common in some people who get the shot.

I was perfectly familiar with how it works, because last year, on Feb. 22, I had the shot after visiting my doctor and telling her I’d like to get the vaccine. I had heard horror stories about people who got shingles, which is caused by a virus and usually manifests in a rash on the body that can be very painful. I remembered my father had it years ago, and it was not fun.

So, my doctor prescribed the vaccine, which is supposed to be 90 percent effective.

Waiting in line at the pharmacy to be vaccinated, a woman in front of me told me a frightening story about how she had shingles once, and it caused a painful rash on her head and in her eyes and lasted forever.

After hearing that, I was reassured getting the vaccine was the right thing to do.

The pharmacist sat me down behind a partition, stuck me with the needle and explained that I would have to have a second shot — no earlier than two months from that day and no later than six months — for the vaccine to be effective.

She also warned that some people who get the vaccine feel soreness where the shot is given. Some experience swelling, and some feel flu symptoms for a while afterward, while others report no symptoms. She said that for those who experience symptoms, the second shot typically isn’t as bad.

I wasn’t worried. I typically take shots well.

But the next day, I woke up feeling awful; not quite bad enough to stay home from work but miserable, nonetheless. My body ached. I was tired and irritable and felt as if someone had clubbed me in the upper arm with a baseball bat and then emptied a bee hive on my arm and encouraged the bees to have at it.

This went on for about three days and petered out.

The weeks went by, and the months, and in late July I headed over to the pharmacy to get my second shot, all the while patting myself on the back because the deadline for getting it was still about a month away.

“We don’t have any of the vaccine left,” the woman at the pharmacy said.

“Why?” I asked.

No one predicted how popular the vaccine would be, so there was not enough to go around, she said. But not to worry. The pharmacy expected to get more, and I would be placed on a waiting list to receive the second shot, she said.

“How many people are ahead of me?”

“Five,” she replied. “We will call you when it’s in.”

I went home and waited for days with no call, checked again, and was told there was no vaccine. Checked again. Same answer. The pharmacy never called.

So, when I went for my annual physical late last month — a year after my first shingles shot — I told my doctor about what had happened. She prescribed the vaccine again, sent it to a different pharmacy this time and told me to stay in touch. Should I run into the same predicament as last year, she’d help ensure I get the second shot and avoid having to go through the process all over again.

I drove to the pharmacy March 1 where a nice pharmacist took me in a private room, stuck the needle in my upper left arm and sent me on my way. I told him about my previous experience and asked if there would be enough of the vaccine when I come back for more. He assured me there would be. I am to return for the second shot any time after May 1, but no later than Sept. 1.

I was fine for the rest of that day.

But that night, I had bad dreams. I woke up March 2 feeling crappy but went to work, took Tylenol every four hours and managed to fumble my way through the day. In the evening, I drove home, had some hot chowder, took some more Tylenol, lay on the couch with a heating pad and then clambered into bed.

The next day I was better, and today, three days post vaccine, my arm is still sore, but I think I’ll survive.

I’ve decided that, if in two months I return for the second shot and there’s none to be found — anywhere — I will concede defeat.

I’ll suck it up, head home and hope I never get shingles.

And if I do, I’ll just chalk it up to fate.


Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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