My First “Fauci Ouchy”
The COVID-19 Vaccine Is Here—And I’ve Decided to Take It
by Hank Trout

In February of this year, thanks to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, I received my first dose of the Moderna vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. If the national vaccine rollout goes according to plan (hey! we actually have a national vaccine distribution plan!), I will receive the second dose in March.

After the first injection, I had absolutely no side effects, no headaches, no nausea, not even the injection site soreness that I expected (and usually have after any injection). I’ve read that the second dose of the Moderna vaccine is the more likely to cause such side effects. Apparently, the second dose kick-starts the body’s immune system into actions that can indeed cause those side effects.

And I don’t care. I’m still eager to get that second “Fauci Ouchy.”

I have been somewhat rattled lately when I’ve read posts on social media from people who are either hesitant about getting the vaccine or downright, implacably opposed to getting any of the coronavirus vaccines currently available. I’m not talking about the misinformed rabid “anti-vaxxers” out there, or the people who think the vaccines will be used to inject some insidious microchip into their bodies. (Although, I must admit, that one makes me chuckle, imagining a needle big enough for a microchip to pass through it.) No, I’m referring to intelligent, rational people who simply do not trust these vaccines for one reason or another. Curious about those reasons, I asked around.

My British buddy Steve Keeble, co-director of AFTER 82, a remarkable film that documents the history of AIDS in the U.K. through interviews with long-term HIV/AIDS survivors who lived that history, is one of those who are hesitant about getting the coronavirus vaccine. In an email, Steve first acknowledged, “I am speaking from a U.K. perspective on this. I realise you guys have had it a lot worse than we have, thanks to ‘the T word.’ The preventative measures put in place by the equally incompetent idiot at Number 10 [Downing Street] make as much sense as double Dutch. To be honest, the whole thing this end has become a circus, that is what my posts are really digging at.” Steve’s hesitance about the vaccine is based on his distrust of the process that produced the vaccines. “Both Ben [Lord, his co-director on AFTER 82] and I won’t be having the vax, at the moment, partly because we can’t, partly because we feel it has been rushed. There are so many stories going around, you wouldn’t believe. That is not to say that we won’t in the future. I just feel we don’t know enough about it yet. For me, if you are fortunate to be healthy, why would you want something that could have, and sadly has, for some, had lethal consequences. There is an old saying my dear Mum used to say, if it works, don’t fix it.”

Now, I know Steve to be an intelligent, thoughtful man who has come to his conclusion via rational consideration of the issues surrounding the vaccines, and I respect his decision. I too had to weigh those concerns about side effects and the speed with which the vaccines were developed. After all, vaccines usually take many years to develop. Dr. Jonas Salk worked on his polio vaccine for eight years. And when we HIV-positive folks think about vaccines, we know that we’ve waited for forty years for an HIV vaccine that remains elusive. Even acknowledging the tricky differences between viruses that makes an HIV vaccine harder to come by, the rapid under-one-year development of the coronavirus vaccines does indeed give one pause.

As I said, I weighed those concerns also. And still I got the first shot as soon as I was permitted to get it. Let’s face it—I’m a sixty-eight-year-old man whose immune system has been ravaged by HIV for at least thirty-two years. For just as long I have suffered from asthma, COPD, and several bouts of pneumonia. If I catch this virus, which attacks the lungs, I’m dead as a rock. To prevent that, I have not just sheltered in place, I have hibernated—my trip to get the vaccine in February was the only time I’ve left our apartment since the September 18 press conference for The San Francisco Principles. If this vaccine gets me one day closer to resuming some semblance of an ordinary life, the risk is worth it.

Besides, since 1996 when I started taking the antiretroviral cocktail of medications, I have put into my body some of the most highly toxic drugs known to man. In addition to the HIV medications I’ve taken for twenty-five years, every day I take one medication for osteoporosis, another to prevent heart attacks, another for chronic pain, an anti-depressant, and calcium and potassium supplements. I am practically a walking pharmaceutical experiment on my own—an unpaid guinea pig for Big Pharma for decades. What possible harm could one more drug do me?

As Steve reminded me, whether to get the coronavirus vaccine is a very personal decision. For me, that decision was easy. I can’t wait for that day of my second shot to roll around.

Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his husband Rick.