Cover Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

What is it like to get the Covid-19 vaccine? These Malaysians abroad spill the details.

Much has been said about the Covid-19 vaccination, from the risk of dangerous side effects to the conspiracy theory that the vaccines contain microchips to control people’s minds.

As Malaysians await their turn to receive their free vaccinations under the national Covid-19 vaccination programme, scheduled to roll out at the end of February, we spoke to three Malaysians abroad who shared their experience on receiving their Pfizer-BioNTech doses—and perhaps debunk some talk surrounding Covid-19 vaccinations.

Read more: Malaysia’s Covid-19 Vaccine Programme: What You Need To Know

Bart Kalidas, pilot, Singapore

Bart Kalidas was fortunate enough to be one of the first groups to be vaccinated after frontliners, but his Covid-19 pandemic journey was an arduous and mentally-challenging one.

“As someone who’s working in the aviation industry, every day there was the fear of losing the job I love since flights are non-existent. Financially, it definitely took a toll on me and it was very hard to stay motivated,” Bart said, adding that while the airline industry for the island city-state is slowly picking up, flights for him are still very minimal.

“I put my name down as soon as the opportunity came. The process was pretty seamless. I had my first dose on January 18 at T4 Changi Airport (T4 became a makeshift vaccination centre). The staff inquired about my general health and if I had any history of severe allergies. After I got my vaccination, I moved to a holding area to wait for 30 minutes just to see if I had any severe reactions. Then, I proceeded to a discharge counter where I was given my next appointment for the second dose. I had my second dose on February 8, also at T4 Changi Airport. The same process, also pretty seamless and efficient.

“Reaction wise, there was nothing severe although I did feel a slight soreness in the arm where the jab was administered which lasted for about 24 hours and that was it, for both doses."

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Melvyn Nair, senior systems analyst, US

Halfway across the world is Melvyn Nair, who was also offered the vaccine after the frontliners due to the nature of his job in an insurance company. “It has been stressful, just like the millions of others. Our kids have been homeschooling for the past year now and at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, my wife lost her job,” Nair said of his pandemic struggles.

The father-of-two described his Covid-19 vaccination experience as quick and efficient. “I received an e-mail asking about my interest in getting the vaccine—it’s a volunteer basis. I had to answer some questions such as if I had any allergies and some other demographic queries. A week later, I received another e-mail to register for my appointment. I opted for an early morning slot and they sent me my instruction sheet.”

“My entire experience from getting to the hospital to getting my first vaccination took all of 15 minutes as there was no queue since everyone was pre-registered. I just had to stay for observation, as required, for 15 minutes before I was free to go. They e-mailed me on the second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh day to check if I had any side effects.

“Three to five days before I was due for my second dose, I received another e-mail to register. It’s the same process as the first one. Unlike the first time, after my second vaccination, I experienced a little arm soreness. Other than that, no other side effects.”

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Jeanie Fong, NHS community podiatrist, UK

Community podiatrist Jeanie Fong revealed she has been working non-stop since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

“I was deployed for three months at wards working with stroke and rehabilitation for general patients. When lockdown restrictions eased, I went back to my own role, seeing patients as normal but with more PPE in place. It was hard to get used to at first. My partner, who’s also a frontliner, and I haven't had a break, and we’re extremely exhausted, especially when we have a child to entertain too.”

However, Fong commended the NHS for running the Covid-19 vaccination programme smoothly. “The consultant first went through my medical history and allergies, and asked if there are any concerns. After the nurse administered by first vaccination, I was monitored for 15 minutes to see if I had any immediate side effects. I was later given a date for my next vaccination and 21 days later, I had my second vaccination.”

“In terms of side effects, I had some cold and flu symptoms after my first dose. Extremely bad headache, hot and cold flushes, some joint pains, my arm was heavy, and I felt fatigued, but all that went away after five days. My second vaccination was much better. I’m all good now.”

Read more: Travelling During Covid-19: What You Should Know

What of the ‘noise’ and misinformation often heard about the Covid-19 vaccination, such as extreme cases of reactions and conspiracy theories?

“That’s so silly lah. There’s no tracking chip and aliens are not dissecting my brain,” Nair said. “The reality is, science is difficult for the layman to understand and of course, people fear the unknown. Personally, I believe in science and now that I’ve been vaccinated, I feel safer not just for myself but also for my family.”

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Adding to that point, Bart said: “Cut through the noise and decide what’s best for you by verifying what you read and ensure you’re getting your information from credible sources. Trust the scientific community. These people are experts in the field who have spent a good portion of their life studying immunology and vaccines. If there are any concerns, we should always consult our physicians or any experts that we know in the field to get their advice and recommendations. Also, I believe that the side effects of contracting Covid-19 would be way worse than the vaccine itself."

“I wasn’t entirely concerned about receiving the vaccinations apart from the fact that the vaccine was speed-produced," Fong said. "A lot of research went into this and they won’t give it to everyone if it’s not safe. As for the conspiracy theories, well, if they can chip you via a solution through a needle, technology must be improving by leaps and bounds and soon we'll be able to physically fly to the moon ourselves!"

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