My name is Annette and I’m 63 years old. I have 2 adult children and 4 grandchildren. I have always been very fit and have no ongoing health conditions and take no medication. Prior to the vaccine, I ran half marathons each year and did 14-to-15 hours of endurance training every week (running, cycling, and swimming). I have a nursing background and had worked in public health in Papua New Guinea for 20 years before moving back to Australia in 2020. My partner and I initially settled in Cairns to be close to the kids and grandkids and for easy access to PNG as we assumed we would go back once the pandemic settled.
I felt no pressure to have the vaccine and I really thought I was just doing my bit. I did feel a little nervous about getting vaccinated, however, because the vaccines had been produced so quickly. Nevertheless, I had two Astra Zeneca vaccines in 2021 (at a pharmacy) and I had no noticeable reaction in the 15-minute waiting time, or in the days and weeks afterwards. I did not even have a sore arm with the first and I felt slightly drowsy for 24 hours with the second, but nothing other than that.
At the start of 2022, I was only a few months out from doing a full Ironman. I had some routine health tests with my physio in December 2021 to make sure I wasn’t in for any surprises, and they all came back completely fine.
I had my Pfizer booster on the 6th of January 2022 at the same pharmacy as my first two vaccines. I was nervous about the booster because I knew a few people who had felt very unwell for several days after the injection. I had done two endurance training sessions that morning and had not pushed myself at all. My coach had told us that if we were getting a Covid vax, not to train for 24 hours afterwards. Initially, I felt fine. We had our grandkids staying and the next day I had some friends over with their kids so they could all play. All the kids were in the pool when I noticed this cerebral irritation and my friend’s voice sounded whiny and I just wanted her to stop. I couldn’t stand listening to her, which is completely out of character for me. I got a thumping headache and had to call my partner and ask him to come home and look after all the visitors. Ten minutes after he got home, I said, “You need to help me get upstairs to bed.” I still had a thumping headache and the heart palpitations started. I thought it was a side effect of the vax and thought I needed to sleep. Well, I slept for hours and hours; I just couldn’t stay awake. I had the odd day where I felt slightly better, but most of the time I was sleeping 18 to 20 hours a day. I couldn’t concentrate, and I had light sensitivity and severe fatigue. When I wasn’t feeling better after 3 or 4 days, I thought I must have Covid. I called the hospital, but they said they were chockablock and not to come in unless absolutely necessary. I did a RAT test, which was negative. I then did a PCR test and waited for the results, also negative.
My symptoms continued. I knew I didn’t have Covid, but I thought the symptoms had gone on way too long to be just a normal vax side effect. I still had a raging headache, and when the kids called, they said my voice was different and that they didn’t recognize it. I couldn’t concentrate on the phone and couldn’t chat for more than a couple of minutes. My nervous system was out of control. I had palpitations and an internal pain in my lower arms like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I was feeling so weak and had this continuous headache, and it was unusual for me to ever have a headache.
I went to Emergency on the 11th of January. I waited for some time and had difficulty sitting up. They were very busy. I was given a bed and fluids and they ran a lot of tests. After 24 hours, they told me that they could tell I was really unwell but they had no beds, and, as I was stable-unwell, they were going to send me home. They told me that all the test results were normal. (I’ve since been to a naturopath who looked at the same blood test results and was quite concerned by them. While they were in the ‘normal’ range, she said that looking at the high and low levels and putting them all together, it didn’t paint a very good picture. The levels were very out of whack for me, given I am so fit.) I was discharged and had to nominate a GP as we’d recently moved to Cairns from Papua New Guinea. I didn’t have one, so I nominated the local medical Center.
I went to the GP in February 2022 (he was a good GP). He did more blood tests and said they came back in the normal range, even though a number of things were quite low. He said he didn’t know what to do and referred me to a specialist physician. When I saw her on the 16th of March, she said, “Look, you’ve had all these tests and there’s nothing it can be but the vax.” She said she had seen a lot of people having unusual reactions to the vaccine. She wrote a report to my GP stating that my symptoms were a result of the vaccine.
By early March, I felt a lot better and tried some gentle exercise. I started with a short walk and then moved on to a short run. Because I was previously so fit, I hadn’t lost too much strength in the two months of being so sick and bedridden after the vaccine. I was able to do long bike rides and I also started swimming again, so I thought I’d do the half iron man. I was feeling relieved and felt like I’d slept the vaccine off for two months. I thought that was bad, but time to move on. But by the 17th of April, I was back to being bed bound.
On the 10th of April, I was at track-cycle training and 30 minutes into the session, I had a sudden onset of heart palpitations and intense fatigue. I thought, “Oh, this really isn’t right” and stopped training.
I crashed back down to where I was a month ago. I was really lethargic with this debilitating fatigue and really bad brain fog and the headaches came back. My nervous system was out of whack and it was really scary. I felt like I just didn’t know what was going on here. I was so weak, I couldn’t walk, and I had to get my partner to carry me. I had to live in the bedroom because I could no longer get around to the rest of the house. My partner had to be my carer and we had no income. We had to put the house on Airbnb and stay with friends to make some money. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, and I couldn’t talk without jumbling my words. I couldn’t walk by myself and couldn’t see anyone. The loneliness was terrible. I couldn’t tolerate any noise. I couldn’t even sit up because I was so weak. I really thought I was about to die. My partner called an ambulance and the paramedics attended and said they thought I was having a panic attack because my obs were fine. I said, “I’m not having a panic attack. I’ve been in the line-of-fire working in PNG and I’ve experienced panic. This wasn’t that.” The ambos said I needed to see a GP.
When I saw my GP, I was so weak that I could barely walk into his surgery. He said it was anxiety and a panic attack and it certainly appeared to be the case because things settled when I lay down. But because I couldn’t walk, they sent me in an ambulance to hospital. I was ramped for at least an hour and had stabilised because I was lying down. They kept me overnight in the transit lounge and I got my partner to pick me up the next morning.
In May, I joined a mentorship group for people with chronic fatigue and long chronic diseases. I joined because, by this time, the doctors said we have no idea what it is only that it was some sort of post vax chronic fatigue syndrome. So, I thought regardless of the cause of this, it is what I’m managing now and I need to focus on that. This group has been of real benefit for me. They look at the physical and emotional as well as the science behind fatigue. It’s a lot of peer-group support and I still continue that. It’s been a real blessing for me.
Then, around June or July my nervous system got really out of control. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t carry on a conversation and I couldn’t tolerate any noise or light. My whole body was totally agitated. I had this sensation that I can only explain as feeling like electric eels were running under my skin, around my shoulders and back and up in to my head. My osteopath has since told me it’s called neuroflaring.
By this stage, my mental health was deteriorating. I asked my GP for a mental health plan and started seeing a psychologist on zoom and that’s been really helpful. My biggest concern was that I would get depressed. I hadn’t experienced that but I’d seen it in others before. I wanted to work on prevention so that I didn’t get to that point. I never went on any medication and I was determined not to. But it had all been really hard on my mental health. I felt so isolated and that was one of the hardest things to manage. I felt like I was all alone. I had this negative self-talk, that I’m not good enough. I couldn’t do any of the things I used to do. My partner was there and he was very supportive, but it took months for him to realise that this wasn’t going away. He was used to me always being so resilient. I also didn’t understand what was happening to me. I felt like a burden and found it difficult to reach out for help. Eventually, I thought, “stuff this,” I’m not lying on this couch or bed and not sleeping for the rest of my life. I had a moment of clarity and thought, “I don’t accept this. I’m going to rebuild my body from the toes up.” The group I joined in May really helped me to focus on giving my body everything it needs to heal rather than focusing on my symptoms.
My physio recommended that I get craniosacral therapy and see a respiratory specialist focusing on breathing to calm my nervous system. This was a game changer. After the craniosacral therapy, I felt like my body relaxed for the first time in forever and I still continue with this treatment. I saw a naturopath and changed my diet. I thought it was already good, but now it’s even better. I now do what my body needs; if I need to lie down for three days, then I lie down for three days. I am worthy and I’m reaching out for help. I’ve lost friends along the way, though, because this vax reaction is a sensitive topic. In many cases, I say Long Covid now as the symptoms are similar and it’s more acceptable.
May, June and July had been my worst months. I learnt to go to ground zero instead of pushing through. We had to create a new roadmap and redesign where and how we were living. We sold assets so that I could continue accessing health services. I’d moved away from the mainstream and was using alternative, supportive therapies to keep building my body up. I started to pick up a bit and I was sleeping OK. On a good day, I could walk 200 meters to a local cafe, meet up with a friend for 20 minutes, and walk back home. By this stage, we had moved to a one-bedroom apartment in the city in Cairns. Then, in December, we moved to Townsville to move in with the kids. I needed the extra support and we were able to rent out our apartment in Cairns to free us up a bit financially.
I knew about the vaccination compensation scheme, but if your mind’s not functioning properly, then it’s actually very hard to access. My GP was more than happy to support me. He believed it was from the vaccine and he put it down in writing in a report in July. I also got re-assessed in July by the physio who assessed me in December 2021 and we could clearly see the changes. She put a report together for me which was very alarming and it showed a serious decline in both my physical and cognitive state.
I submitted my claim in August and heard nothing. I tried to follow up in October, but it was impossible to talk to anyone directly. We were spending so much money and, with no income, I needed to know what the timeline was. Eventually, someone rang me, but I was in a pretty bad way and they only let the phone ring three times. I couldn’t answer it in time and there was no way to call them back. At this time, I wasn’t even able to sit up and it was all too hard to follow up. Someone did ring again, also for three times before hanging up. I decided I’d just have to let it go. We sold a lot of stuff to make some money and I’m not going to chase it up anymore.
I am sharing my story because I feel I need to do my bit, to put as much evidence out there as we can. The government’s response to vaccine injury doesn’t help me to feel hopeful. It denies vaccine injuries, but it’s time to acknowledge them and address the injuries and see what can be made available. The government not acknowledging these injuries is really damaging for us.
I am still basically house bound. I have not driven since the vaccine. Physically, I have not improved that much, but I can get around the house and I can sit outside. I have improved cognitively. Prior to the vaccine, I was doing a PhD and expecting to go back to PNG for work. For a long time after the vaccine, I couldn’t read, I just couldn’t follow the words.
I also couldn’t listen to audiobooks. I couldn’t follow the story, but then I started to be able to follow it for 80 – 90 percent of the time. I can read words now and I can read short articles, but I can’t read a book or anything for too long. Every month I can do a bit more. I still have a lot of days where I can’t do anything, but if I look over the period of a month then I can see that I can do a bit more. I just want to reach my potential and keep getting better.