These past few weeks have been hectic as I try to finish a new novel I’m releasing at the end of June (it’s about space/time travel, not Italy travel, so I won’t talk about it here, don’t worry!). As if prepping a book for publication and dealing with all the marketing and other things that come with it weren’t enough to stress me out, I also recently got the Covid-19 vaccine!
I will be honest with you: I was scared. Like, really, really scared. No one likes getting shots, but this was on a whole other level. It was my first experience with health care in Italy, and I hadn’t gone to the doctor much when I was living in America either, so I hadn’t had a shot since I was in middle school. Plus, there is always the issue of communicating in a second language about medical stuff which can be a bit more “technical” than everyday speech, AND, to top it all off, my husband and I couldn’t get vaccine appointments on the same day, so I had to do it all alone.
Spoiler alert: everything turned out okay for me, and that’s how I know you can do it too.
But if you’re nervous about getting vaccinated in Italy or just not sure how it works, I’m going to tell you everything about the process so you can be prepared.
Booking an Appointment
I have to start off by saying that, depending on the Italian region you are living in, you may not be able to book a vaccine appointment just yet. Each region has different rules and timelines and in Milan, where I live, they sped things up a lot over the last few months and are moving a bit more quickly than some other places.
Check on your comune website or at the Comune itself (the city hall building, usually it has a bulletin board with important announcements about the community out front) to see when your age group will be able to register. In our case, each age group had a different week where they could schedule an appointment via the website your Comune will direct you to (I think you can also do it over the phone, but I’m not sure how that works, so I’ll stick with what I know for this post).
But when the time opens up to register… be ready to click fast! Thousands of people are vying for the same appointment slots, so the early ones fill up really fast. They actually secretly opened our time slot a few hours early, so my husband and I started registering as soon as we noticed it, but within minutes a whole month’s worth of dates was filled up. And registering wasn’t even officially supposed to be open yet!
When you make your appointment, you choose your region from a list and you are able to choose the facility closest/more convenient to you to go to for the vaccine, but we didn’t really have much say on the time. We were able to choose the day though… even if we didn’t get our first choice!
What You Need
Signing up for the appointment is fairly straightforward, but you do need your tessera sanitaria to do it online. You’ll also need to type in your birth date, name, and gender, and a phone number where you can get the confirmation text.
Once you have booked the appointment, you will get the link to some documents you need to print and fill out (they also have some spares at the vaccination facility, but it’s best to come prepared if you can).
These documents ask things like your name, age, address, place of birth, and whether you have previously had Covid or any Covid tests before. There is also a section where you can check si or no on whether you have ever had allergic reactions to vaccines, take certain medications, etc. This part isn’t too tough if you don’t really have much in the way of medical history or health issues, but I’d advise having a native or fluent Italian speaker take a look at it with you if you’re not totally fluent yourself, just to be safe.
Oh, boy. It’s time. The thing we’ve been dreading (or perhaps looking forward to, if you’re brave and ready to be safe and put an end to all this Covid stuff once and for all!).
I have to make a disclaimer and say that I got my vaccine at a facility they set up specifically for that purpose – it was a gym, where they now vaccinate 1,000 people every day – but some of you will probably get yours at hospitals or clinics. So my experience may be a bit different than yours, but I can still give you a good idea of the process.
Level 1 – Getting in
My husband’s vaccine appointment was on Sunday, and the place was PACKED. We stood outside for an hour as they let people in a few at a time (Then he went in and I stood outside in 95-degree weather for two more hours while he was inside…). When it was my turn the next day, a Monday, there was a lot less confusion and I got to go in right away. All alone…
Level 2 – First Check-in (and lots of waiting...)
But, obviously, getting in the door is just the first level. Once you get inside, someone will explain how things work (the man who spoke with me was very nice). And how they work is this: you take a number and you sit in a chair and wait for your number to be called. And I will tell you, if you are not looking forward to this shot, this wait will be the longest wait of your life. When I sat down, I was number 52… out of 90. And things were not moving fast.
In my case, there was an electronic board that had the current number on it so you can watch for yours, in addition to the lady who announced it, which was good, because sometimes it’s hard to understand Italian when you’re in a crowded room full of people talking.
So, you wait for your number to be called, and when it is, you go to a desk where someone is sitting at a computer. You give that someone your tessera sanitaria (they might ask for your documents, but they didn’t ask for mine at that point) and possibly an ID document like your passport or carta di soggiorno or Italian ID card.
They asked me what comune I live in and whether I was getting the vaccine because of a health condition or because of age (l’eta). We yelled the questions and answers at each other because it was loud (there were probably over a hundred people in the room) and they were behind glass… so it was a bit odd. Then they typed the info into a computer and asked me if I had those papers I told you to print out before.
Then they sent me over to another lady who gave me a new number and the waiting began again!
Level 3 – Il Medico
So you wait and you wait and you wait some more, watching for your number on another screen (no one was there to announce it this time, so you have to pay attention). This part goes much slower, because it is the most serious one: you are waiting to speak with a doctor.
My husband warned me that the women took way longer at this stage than the men, but he wasn’t sure why, so I was expecting it to go badly. And he was right, by the way – men just sat down at the desk for a minute or two then went on, but the women seemed to get stuck there for ten or fifteen minutes or more!
When it was my turn, I went to the desk where there was an older doctor and either a younger nurse or doctor (this seemed to be the case at every desk). The doctor was a bit hard to understand over the noise with his mask on and the glass between us, but he asked my age and double-checked that I didn’t have any allergies (and made some jokes that it took me a second to get). I gave them my papers, and he asked me repeatedly, “So you don’t have any problems at all? Are you sure? Usually women have a whole list of things we have to consider!” So I finally figured out what the holdup was for everyone else. Mystery solved!
Then, once that was done, they printed out a paper, gave me the date of the appointment for my second vaccine, and I had to wait for a few more agonizing minutes for them to prep the next area before I went onto the last, remaining level: the vaccine.
Final Boss: The Vaccine
The actually vaccinating part of this adventure was the shortest part. There were a series of stalls set up, each one with four seats inside with some walls to hide people from public view (but not very well, in my opinion) and a table where the person administering the shots kept a basket of syringes, a bottle of rubbing alcohol, some cotton balls, and some band-aids.
This part was a bit bizarre to me, because the doctor giving the vaccine was just flitting around like a butterfly from person to person, giving four shots in less than two minutes! She was safe and careful and nice, obviously, but everything is really efficient and fast-paced.
So, anyway, I sat down in the chair and tensed my whole body, which is the exact opposite of what you should do (really, I’m not kidding, do NOT tense your body, or at least your arm. Learn from my mistake!). Then the doctor took my paper I just got, saw which shot I needed, and basically gave me the vaccine before I even knew it was happening!
And I will say this: so many people told me (even the doctor I spoke to right before this) that most people don’t feel anything. But, since I was so tense and holding my arm in a weird angle, it hurt when that needle went in! So let your arm hang down by your side and try not to tense it. Your arm will thank you later.
The doctor then gave me some tips about how, since it was Pfizer, my arm might be sore and that I could put ice on it or take my usual over-the-counter pain reliever if it got too bad, and that it would be fine in a day or two.
Then she put a band-aid on it and sent me to a set of chairs outside, where I had to wait fifteen minutes with everyone else who just got their shot just in case I had an allergic reaction (I didn’t, even though that’s what I was irrationally worried about the most).
Then, once the fifteen minutes were up, it was all over!
A lot of people ask about side effects, but I only really had one: my arm hurt like crazy the next day! I could barely lift it. It felt like a really bad pulled muscle. But I’m almost certain that if I hadn’t been tensing my arm when the needle went into the muscle, it wouldn’t have been so bad. We’ll see for the next one!
Many people have also said that the side effects are worse the day after you get the second vaccine, so maybe I will edit this after that one or send an update in the email newsletter to let you know my experience with that one.
If you are worried about having an allergic reaction like I was, just remember that they make you wait fifteen minutes (or thirty, if you have had a reaction to something before) before leaving so that you can be close to the medical staff. In the very rare case that something happens, they will be there to fix you up in seconds.
And lastly, if you are worried about the language barrier, just know that almost everything they ask you is already on the papers you printed out. So if you know what everything means on there, you know where you live and how old you are, you should be just fine. And you absolutely won’t be the first foreign person to get a vaccine there, so there is no need to feel embarrassed if you struggle a bit with your words!
Hopefully this post put you a bit more at ease if you are getting your vaccine soon. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them! If you have already had your vaccine, let us know how it went in the comments, and if you have any tips.