I just got a Pfizer booster shot. I felt dizzy, but the side effects were way milder than the first 2 doses.

Emyle Watkins showing off her vaccine bandaid.
Emyle Watkins. Courtesy of Emyle Watkins
  • Emyle Watkins is a 23-year-old disability reporter living in Buffalo, New York.
  • Watkins has rheumatoid arthritis, which means the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells.
  • Watkins’ medication makes her immunocompromised. She received a third Pfizer vaccine dose in August.
  • This is her story, as told to freelance writer Meira Gebel.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Emyle Watkins is a 23-year-old disability reporter who received a third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on August 26. This is her story, as told to freelance writer Meira Gebel.

As an immunocompromised person with rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve been early to most COVID-19 precautions – from wearing a mask and isolating as early as January 2020 to being in one of the first vaccination waves earlier this year.

And now, nearly two years into a world with COVID-19, I received my third dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was a teenager but remember complaining to my doctor about symptoms well before then. My senior year of high school, I remember not being able to get out of bed, walk or put on clothes because it was so painful. As a young woman, I had a hard time getting diagnosed.

At first, I was told I had depression and that I was just having growing pains. It wasn’t until I received a second opinion that a doctor suggested I may have rheumatoid arthritis, the same condition as my father.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes joint inflammation and pain

There is no cure for it. For an average person, your immune system acts like an army that fights invaders like bacteria, viruses and infections.

But for my body, my army doesn’t know the difference between an enemy and a civilian, so it attacks parts of my body the same way it fights invaders. So when I’m trying to fight off a cold or the flu, my immune system attacks my body with the same amount of strength.

Emyle Watkins in a red dress and mask.
Emyle Watkins. Courtesy of Emyle Watkins

Because the medications I take for rheumatoid arthritis modifies my immune system to help me avoid flare ups, it reduces my ability to fight infection. Therefore, I’m immunocompromised.

While I’m on these medications, it’s important for me to avoid getting a cold, a virus or a fungal infection. So when we first started hearing about COVID-19 in January 2020, I knew I couldn’t risk getting exposed to it. When I caught the flu and had mono, those were terrible experiences.

Because we didn’t know a lot about the coronavirus early on, I knew I had to self-isolate and start wearing a mask

At that time, I had an upper-respiratory infection, which was common for me, but I was told to act as if I had COVID-19. I was living in one of those big apartment complexes near my college, so I decided once I received a negative test to move back home and lived with my family for several months.

My rheumatologist made it clear that I couldn’t be around anyone who wasn’t masked or socially distanced because it could be dangerous for me, so for the last 19 months, I’ve avoided crowded places and couldn’t see friends or family.

I received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in late February

Getting vaccinated opened up doors for me to be able to see people outside of my immediate family, which was a game-changer But any vaccine causes my immune system to flare up, so I was prepared to have side effects from the first and second dose.

I was in a lot of pain, and even though most people felt better after 24 hours, it took me more than 48 hours to get over the initial fatigue and headache. Two weeks after my second dose, I had an arthritis flare up, which made it difficult to get around and I didn’t have much energy.

But because I’m disabled and immunocompromised, when the mask mandate was lifted over the summer, I never stopped taking the same precautions.

In late July, when we started hearing about the third dose becoming available, I emailed my rheumatologist to see if I should get it. She said yes, so I quickly scheduled an appointment through a county clinic. I knew I didn’t want to go into a crowded pharmacy or mass-vaccination site, where I got my first two, because of the rising cases caused by the Delta variant.

I received my third dose of the Pfizer vaccine on August 26, and the process was quick and easy

Right after I got the vaccine, I started getting a headache and became lightheaded, which I attribute to not eating beforehand. I stayed longer than the 15-minute observation period because of the immediate symptoms, and the clinic gave me some juice while I waited for the lightheadedness to pass.

Although I was initially nervous to get the third dose, I feel grateful. It’s strange to watch people take their masks off and go back to normal even when I’ve had three doses and still don’t get to do that.

Over the last year, I’ve become more aware that I’m at a higher risk even being vaccinated, but I think the third dose will make me feel safer and hopefully boost my immune system.