Getting the J&J Booster Vaccine in Mauritius as a Non-Citizen

This happened on Tuesday the 15th of February, 2022. Jonas and I had an appointment at the Wellkin Hospital in Moka for a booster vaccine. The only vaccine available to us as people under 40 years of age was Johnson & Johnson. This is a European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved vaccine, so this will help us travel in Europe too. Before this, we only had two doses of Sinopharm thanks to Kyrgyzstan.

First of, Fuck the European Medicines Agency

I repeat, fuck the EMA

It feels like yesterday that we were in Kyrgyzstan asking “Мы хотим вакцинация Sinópharm. Можно?” in Bishkek last May. The covid-19 vaccines were all rather new and – dare I say – somewhat exciting. The vaccines from both the eastern and western hemispheres brought hope to an end to this pandemic. A headline said that the EMA was testing our Chinese-made and WHO-approved vaccine and we were confident that they’d approve it soon in the EU. After taking our second Sinopharm shot three weeks later in early June, we were relieved. We received our vaccine participation trophy in the form of a neat little card written in Russian cursive.

But the EMA never approved Sinopharm. Not in six weeks. Not in six months. Fucking basterds. I visited their website and couldn’t find info on it. I visited their Wikipedia page and found criticism that “…the process is unscientific and undemocratic”. Yes, that has so far also been my experience. I googled and googled, and only found people in 2021 (and 2022) desperately asking the Twitter account of the EMA about when they will approve Sinopharm.

But they never did. Which makes me feel like this:

In the end, the EMA is part of a governmental organization. And as much as I love EU shit in general, their anti-everything and anything from China is tiring, to say the least.

Had Sinopharm been approved, I would have likely returned to the EU by now at least for a cursory visit.

Secondly, I Was Not Excited about the Booster

But it had to be done.

Predicting shit during this pandemic is extremely difficult, but I could assume that boosters would become standard. I look at what’s happening to my parents and grandmas in the Netherlands as a way to see what the general trend is. And they’ve already had a booster dose back in 2021 and follow-up booster shots are already in the plans. I shit you not, I’ve already heard terms like “third booster” floating around.

My real fear is that some countries will keep counting the vaccines from the first and require a minimum amount of vaccines. I think the only valid concern is when you had your last shot/booster. If it’s… I don’t know… within the last nine months, then you get to be a participant in society. But if they say something like “The year is 2024 and you’re supposed to have had 11 shots and I only count 10, no cookie for you” then I will probably count myself out, vote with my feet, and move to a more reasonable country. At least this last part is easy for me.

Can We Get a Booster Vaccine in Mauritius?

Then the question still remains if it’s at all possible for foreigners to get a booster vaccine in Mauritius? We googled, asked around for people’s experiences, and the answer was “Yes, but.”

In 2022, the Mauritian government buys vaccines such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). But they’re not always available and they’re not available to all age groups. With our Sinopharm, we count as vaccinated. So we can only apply for a booster. Someone recommended us to go to a clinic called C-Care and I found a website about them on Google Maps. It’s really cool they had an online appointment system, but it revealed a few problems. Then we moved from La Gaulette to Quatre Bornes and our hosts in QB were very helpful people who could help us figure stuff out.

Pfizer – the gold standard – is only available as a booster to those over 40 and kids. Moderna wasn’t available at all. That left J&J or more Sinopharm at a different clinic. We wanted to get something EU-approved, so we had a passionate discussion about either waiting or going for J&J. Jonas and I discussed this at length, and figured that J&J wasn’t that bad; it’s single-shot, EU-approved, and we can get it in Mauritius.

With our hosts, we took a drive to the ‘Wellkin by C-Care Hospital’ in Moka to ask if we can get the booster vaccine. They said yes, but absolutely not without an appointment. So we returned home, went to their website, booked an appointment for the J&J booster vaccine, and waited for the day to come.

The last issue was the price. Our hosts called around some healthcare worker friends, who said it might cost 300 Mauritian Rupees or about €6 at this private hospital. That’s acceptable. It would have been for free at a public clinic, but her friends said that the wait is upward of four hours. That’s not acceptable.

Vaccination Day is Here

Getting the J&J Booster Vaccine in Mauritius as a Non-Citizen

15th of February, 2022

Dropoff at Wellkin Hospital + appointment verification

Our hosts had offered to take us to the Wellkin Hospital and they had not forgotten. Because traffic was horrible the last time on this six-kilometer stretch, we departed at 13:45 for our 14:20 appointment. This time, the husband drove us in his Hiace to the hospital. Traffic wasn’t too bad. He dropped us off at the entrance to the vaccination center and he said he’d wait for us in the parking lot. We didn’t know how long this would take, so we exchanged phone numbers in case it wasn’t worth the wait. I’m confident we would have found a way back to Quatre Bornes.

We entered the hallway and I took a little video. A guard was by the entrance and led Jonas to the queueing area. I followed him and sat down on one of the chairs. But the queue of chairs moved in a snaking pattern and rapidly so. It almost looked like a game of musical chairs. I somehow overtook Jonas in the queue when we had to move one row forward. The people in the front of the queue had to go to one of two people who confirm your appointment and help with your registration.

Both registration chairs freed up and Jonas and I sat down in front of some people behind plexiglass. I couldn’t hear shit of what they were saying, but I knew they needed to see my booster vaccine appointment. I showed the guy the text and that was enough. Now it was time for my passport and vaccination card. I handed over the Kyrgyz vaccination card, which is illegible. I saw Jonas handing over the notarized English translation of the vaccine card and I did the same. Then we received two forms: one A4-sized green paper and one A3-sized yellow paper that formed a booklet around the green one.

Jonas and I filled them in, first from a chair and then from a table since we didn’t have a clipboard or something like that. We needed to fill in details of our old vaccine, mention if we had any allergies (no), our address in Mauritius, next of kin (each other), preferred language, etcetera. It took us about 10 minutes to fill it all in because I had to look up the name of the facility where we got the vaccine in Bishkek. Good thing I wrote a blog post about that.

Step 1: counselling + registration

After we had finished, we walked into the next space. It was numbered. First, we had to go to counseling and registration. We handed over the yellow and green forms and our respective doctors/administrators went through them. Mine filled in a little yellow booklet (A5-sized?) with the name of the hospital and “Mrs.” and let me do the rest. I had to fill in my own details such as my name, passport number, address, phone number, and allergies. I hadn’t taken a good look at this booklet yet, but this is the Mauritian covid-19 vaccination record. She asked me a few more doctor-like questions such as the reaction I had to the Sinopharm vaccine. I wanted to answer “нормално” but stopped myself and said “no issues”.

I took that booklet with the other forms to step 2. There were seats and a waiting area and I gravitated towards sitting down, but a doctor peeked from behind a curtain in a vaccination booth and gestured me to come. Time to get vaxxed, I guess! I looked behind me and saw that Jonas wasn’t done yet with step 1.

Step 2: Johnson & Johnson booster vaccine

In the vaccination booth, the young female doctor told me to sit down and asked if I wanted it in my left arm (yes). She put a piece of medical tape on the edge of her desk. I rolled up my sleeve and gave her all the forms I’d received and filled in at the hospital so far. She read all of them, especially the green one which contains allergy information. She asked if I had any side effects from Sinopharm and I said that I had zero reaction to them both times. Once again, I had to confirm I didn’t have any allergies to the components or any food allergies.

She said I could take one [name of medicine] every eight hours. When I asked her which medicine, she repeated it but it wasn’t a familiar name to me. “That’s similar to paracetamol?” I asked, “Yes, it’s the same as paracetamol.” Ah, a new name for paracetamol to add to my collection. Weirdly enough, she also said something about not eating fish, meat, and eggs for the coming days. I’m not sure if that only applies if you have an allergy to fish, meat, and eggs, but it was strange. But I wasn’t planning on eating any of that stuff regardless of receiving the booster vaccine because vegetarianism.

She had already prepped the Johnson & Johnson shot and sterilized the area on my arm. I made sure to relax my arm to the best of my abilities. I looked over as she jabbed me and put it in. The stab itself was fine but the injection was more uncomfortable than anticipated. The cold liquid didn’t dissipate immediately. She put a piece of cotton on the spot and taped it off with the prepped medical tape. Yay. I was done with the (first) booster vaccine! She filled in some more paperwork. I thanked her as I left the booth with my stack of papers.

Step 3: observation + payment + certification

I looked around for Jonas but someone came and ferried me to step 3: observation. But it’s not so much observation as it is the finalization of paperwork.

At another desk, I handed over my yellow and green papers and they told me to sit down. I looked around for Jonas but he was nowhere. People came out of the vaccine booths numbered one to three and none of them were Jonas. Then suddenly he was next to me and I had no clue where he came from. He was also fine. The shot hurt also a bit more than Sinopharm and his processing went a little slower because he didn’t have a nice plastic sleeve for all his documents; he had given it to me.

A lady in at the desks with stacks and stacks of paperwork called my name, I thought. But I wasn’t sure because it came with “Mister” and so far it’s been really hard to hear anyone who has been sitting behind plexiglass—which was everyone except Dr. Soodhowa who vaccinated me. She repeated my name and this time I was sure. She was responsible for payment. I paid by card but didn’t really hear the price she said. This could have been a nasty surprise, but I received the bill with the receipt and it neatly said 300 Rupees. As promised.

There were now about five people between Jonas and me. He had to pay and then it was my turn to see the médecin. The doctor started off by asking how I was feeling (fine). He went over my paperwork one last time and finalized my Mauritian covid-19 vaccination record card by giving it the hospital stamp. I hadn’t even properly looked at the thing, but it surely wasn’t designed for the booster vaccine as it only has spaces for two shots. As I’d discussed with Jonas before, we would try to get our World Health Organization Yellow Fever Card stamped as well.

I handed the doctor my rather abused Yellow Fever Card from Honduras. He looked at the cover and was already intrigued. I showed him where he could find my previous two Sinopharm shots. He asked me where I got my previous two shots and I said “Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan”. The page where the main vaccines go was already full, so he went to the next page which has my other basic vaccines such as tetanus. There was space below those and he filled it in and validated it with the official hospital stamp.

I asked about getting the Mauritian vaccine certified for European Union travel to get the QR code. He said the Yellow Card should be good enough for that, but that I could also visit the International Vaccination Centre in Port Louis to get everything very formalized. Though he didn’t particularly recommend going there if I don’t have to. Out of curiosity, he also asked me how to pronounce my last name and he did it perfectly without me ever saying it. That’s a first.

Jonas sat down with him a few minutes later and was also asked first how he was feeling. He also got his yellow book signed and stamped and now we were ready again…

Returning home to Quatre Bornes + feeling crappy

We left the building, took some photos outside, and walked towards the Hiace. Jonas said, “It must have been less than one hour.” This was a very good experience as it was all so streamlined, kind, and professional. Our host pulled up next to us and we got into the van and drove back to Quatre Bornes while chatting about the experience.

Post booster vaccine, I quickly started to feel a little crap. My left arm was painful at the muscles and it was radiating upward towards my neck. The left muscle of my neck felt very stiff and uneasy. But we just took it easy till it was time to eat dinner. Our favorite places in Quatre Bornes are this south Indian place called Mumbai Naka and this north Indian place called Punjabi Dhaba. We had eaten at the first place for lunch (idli sambar + thali) and now we craved the other place. This all still went fine. Act like everything’s normal.

Back at home, we watched another episode of Inventing Anna. After an hour or so, I took the first paracetamol to fight the headache. The uncomfortable feelings were getting worse. Then it was time for bed. My skin started to crawl, my heartbeat felt stupid, and I had trouble regulating my body temperature. Jonas said, “If you feel like shit it means it’s working.” It didn’t really lift my spirits.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.

The days after the booster vaccine

On the 16th of February, we made sure to not have anything planned. That was a good choice because I felt really crappy by now. Like muscle aches all over, headaches, brain fog… simply malaise. We watched the final episode of Inventing Anna with our morning coffee.

We ordered falafel and quiche for lunch from The Pita Factory. The appetite wasn’t there but it tasted amazing. Return to the bed for another nap. After that, I continued the endless doomscrolling on my phone worrying about Ukraine. I wasn’t feeling fit enough to edit a video or write something, but also not tired enough to nap more.

In the evening, we ordered food from Curry Express which has an amazingly fast and tasty vegetarian thali. We also didn’t finish that. I prioritized taking a shower to feel a little more normal and to check the stab site on my arm beneath the little band-aid.

Then I had a phone call with family which lasted several hours. Towards the end, I got into speaking enough to make coherent sentences. And then it was time for bed again. Of course, then I felt alright enough to go write down 2000 words for this blog post 🙃

The days after that, the feeling like shit went away, but the pain in my arm lasted for longer than a week. I’ve honestly never experienced such a reaction to a vaccine.

After visiting the Trou aux Cerfs volcano, we walked down past the Dr James Burty David Gymnasium, which had an enormous queue outside in the rain. I asked a passerby what this was about, and he said that’s a vaccination center. So the queues at public (free) vaccination centers is really not to be messed with. I’m happy we went private.

Queue booster vaccine Mauritius Dr James Burty David Gymnasium

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