Covid vaccines come with some side effects, which is a sign that your immune system is getting to work and mounting protection to the virus. The common side effects for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccines include things like pain and swelling on your arm where you get the shot, and flu-like symptoms including fatigue, headache, fever and chills.
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As you prepare for your much-anticipated vaccine appointment (to check your vaccine eligibility status, you can use NBC News' plan your vaccine tool), you might be wondering if there's anything you can do to mitigate these normal, but uncomfortable, side effects. Here's what you should know.
The Centers for Disease Control says that you can take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen (like Advil), aspirin, antihistamines or acetaminophen (like Tylenol), if you have side effects after getting vaccinated for Covid. As with any medication, the CDC recommends talking to your doctor first.
Taking OTC pain medications ahead of your shot to try and decrease symptoms is not recommended by the CDC, because it's not clear how that could affect the vaccine's effectiveness.
The concern is that pre-treating with pain medications that reduce fevers and inflammation (like acetaminophen and ibuprofen) could dampen your immune system's response to the vaccine.
That's because your immune system responds to vaccines through a process called "controlled inflammation," Dr. Colleen Kelley, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, told USA Today in January.
Covid messenger RNA vaccines work by giving cells genetic material that tells them how to make a non-infectious piece of the virus. The immune system then creates antibodies against it — which is controlled inflammation — and can remember how to trigger an immune response if exposed to the virus in the future.
But OTC pain-relieving medications "reduce the production of inflammatory mediators," Kelley said. That's why it's important to wait until after you've gotten the vaccine (and have started creating an inflammatory response already) to take pain medication.
Research on children has shown that those who take acetaminophen before getting vaccines have a lower immune response than those who didn't. And a recent study out of Yale found that giving mice nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aka "NSAIDS") before being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 led to fewer protective antibodies from the virus.
The exception is for people who normally take these types of OTC pain medications as part of their routine to manage another medical condition. Those individuals should continue as normal, but check with their doctor for additional guidance before getting the vaccine, as there could be ramifications for skipping medication.
Beyond taking medication, there are some home remedies that can help you cope with the side effects. Applying a cool, wet cloth to the spot on your arm where the shot was given can help with some of the pain, according to the CDC. Drinking lots of fluids is wise if you're feverish, and wearing lightweight clothing can also keep you comfortable.
After your vaccine, you're supposed to wait for 15 minutes before leaving the place where you got vaccinated (or 30 minutes if you have a history of anaphylaxis) to be observed for reactions or serious side effects.
According to the CDC, the side effects of the Covid vaccine should go away in a few days. That said, in some cases, the side effects can interfere with your ability to go about your daily life, so you may want to plan accordingly.
Also good to know: More people experience side effects from the second of the two doses. That's because the first dose triggers an immune response, and the second dose "boosts" it.