NYC Teacher Talks Guilt & Relief of Getting an Early COVID-19 Shot

Tim Hartnett

Last week, President Joe Biden instructed states to prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine in the month of March. He announced the government would be using the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to provide enough doses for states and counties to bump teachers to the top of the priority list. But in some states, teachers were already gaining access to the shots as essential workers.

Tim Hartnett, a teacher in New York City, received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine back on January 18 and his second on February 15.

Hartnett spoke with Verywell about his experience receiving the vaccine, how it feels to be one of the first in his circle to get the shot, and why you should get vaccinated against COVID-19—if you can—once your turn arrives. 

Verywell Health: How did you go about securing your appointment?

Tim Hartnett: I saw on Twitter on a Saturday that teachers would be allowed to get the vaccine the next Monday, so my wife (who is also a teacher) and I signed up for the first vaccine we could Monday morning. The slot we got was for the following Monday.

My wife and I went through the teacher's union website which directed you to a bunch of different links. She tried different websites, most of which were crashing. I called locations and mostly got recordings like "we have no available vaccine slots" and then just hung up. Some links instructed us to call a number, and then when we'd call, it would just go straight to voicemail.  After a while, my wife found that Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx had slots and we both signed up for the first slot we could find.

Verywell Health: Walk me through the day you received the vaccine. What was that like?

Tim Hartnett: My wife and I got it at Lincoln Hospital in New York City. We both teach in the Bronx, so we've driven by this hospital, but have never parked over there. We went pretty early. We have a newborn baby—I think she was not even 2 months old at the time when we got our first shot. My wife's mom came down to watch the baby and we were all nervous about leaving her behind for the first time ever.

We'd heard all these horror stories of parking taking five hours of waiting in line, but we found parking right away. We got inside an hour or two before our appointment and told the staff that we just tried to get there early—they said that was totally fine. [From the time of our appointments], we waited around 20 minutes. Basically, the amount of time it took us to fill out our paperwork was the amount of time we had to wait.

They call you up one by one into a little stall. The poor woman who did the injection had been working for the entire day nonstop. When she took the needle out [of my arm] blood squirted all over her. She told me that that can happen (but I was the first one that got her!) and that it wouldn’t affect the efficacy of the vaccine.

The guy who did the shot for my wife said he had been working COVID wings of hospitals for the entire pandemic and had a lot of sad stories. He was very happy to be offering vaccines and hope. You could tell they were all very happy to be on this assignment. And the workers all had [the vaccine] too. So you could hear everybody in line asking them how their experience was. And every time they would say, "everyone's different; try to drink plenty of water."

After the shot, we went into an auditorium to wait 15 minutes before we could leave. We got a nice pin of the Statue of Liberty with an injection. That'll make a nice COVID artifact someday.

Verywell Health: Did you experience any symptoms after the first or second shots? How long did they last?

Tim Hartnett: My arm was sore at the injection site and I got a bruise, but it wasn't bad at all. It was less painful than a flu shot. The next morning I felt muscle soreness as if I had done a big workout and just generally felt like crap for the morning, but I was fine by dinner time.

I had it bad after the second dose. Based on what I've heard, I feel like I had the worst experience of all people I know. After the second dose, I definitely would have called out of work [if I were going in]. I had a fever. I had chills. I didn't sleep well that night. Then we woke up early and drove over to a family house up in the Adirondacks, and that was rough. But I think if I was able to just sleep in, it would have been a lot easier. They also said to hydrate. And I didn't really take that seriously. I think I would have felt a lot better if I drank a lot of water.

Verywell Health: Has being fully vaccinated changed your day to day?

Tim Hartnett: We're both high school teachers and the schools are still closed. So honestly, it hasn't really affected my life much at all. I went and saw my parents, and it was their first time really getting to hang out with the baby. That was really nice. And my parents are really nervous about the virus so they were happy that we were vaccinated. But aside from that, I still wear a mask when I go outside. I haven't been going to restaurants because nobody else has the vaccine. I feel like it's not the time to be rubbing it in that I got it. But I'm hoping in a couple of months, once it's people's choice to get the vaccine, that I'll be doing a good thing by rubbing it in.

Verywell Health: Did you tell other people you got vaccinated? Are you one of the first in your circle to get it?

Tim Hartnett: Yeah, especially my co-workers. A lot of my co-workers are really nervous about it, and haven't gotten it yet. So I talked about my experience to them to try to say, "this is great. It's normal. You don't die." But I haven't been posting it on Instagram or anything like that.

You'd think that when you get it, and you're fully vaccinated, you're popping champagne and doing a dance. But I feel more guilt than relief. I just look forward to everybody else getting it. My wife's grandma is 95 and we got the vaccine before her. Not everybody has it and then we have our jobs and we're comfortable working from home, but then we got the vaccine. It feels unfair, but everyone has to get it. I know that the bad sign-up system is the reason that I have access while others do not. But there was also an enormous sense of relief that I am still grateful for and guilty of.

Verywell Health: Do you have any advice for someone considering getting the vaccine?

Tim Hartnett: Get it! Plan for the possibility of feeling less than 100% the next day. I wasn't expecting to actually feel a bit beat up and the next day of work was rough, but it is absolutely worth it.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Paola de Varona
Paola de Varona is an associate news editor at Verywell Health who graduated with a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism.