Health and Wellness

Your Covid booster side effects shouldn't be as 'intense' this time — here's what to expect

A woman receives a Pfizer vaccination booster shot at Eugene A. Obregon Park in Los Angeles.
Gary Coronado | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

If you're thinking about getting a Covid booster shot, you're probably wondering about its side effects.

Don't worry: Compared with your last dose, your booster shot should be a much smoother experience, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"People had fewer reactions after their third dose than after their second dose," CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a White House briefing Tuesday. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDC gave all adults the green light to get a booster shot six months after their second dose of an mRNA vaccine, or two months after getting Johnson & Johnson's one-shot vaccine.

If you felt side effects from your last vaccine dose, you'll likely feel similar ones after your booster — but in less severe ways. The CDC describes typical Covid booster side effects as "mild to moderate," compared to the "intense" ones that often follow a second dose.

That's largely because your first and second doses have already established a virus-fighting blueprint for your immune system. A booster essentially gives your body more practice at mounting a defense against Covid.

Moderna and J&J's boosters are just smaller doses of their original formulations, which could also lessen your side effects. Pfizer's booster is the same dosage as its first two shots.

The most common side effects for all three boosters should sound familiar: pain and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, fever, plus chills and nausea. Less common side effects include nausea and swollen or sore lymph nodes. They all typically dissipate within two to three days, at the most.

You might want to clear your schedule in the days following your booster shot, just in case — but most discomfort is a sign that the vaccine is working as intended, helping your immune system mount protection against the virus.

Here are some home remedies and strategies that may help alleviate the symptoms from your booster:

  • Stay hydrated and wear lightweight, comfortable clothing to cope with symptoms like fevers and chills.
  • Use the arm where you got your shot normally, and even exercise it a little bit. It might be sore, but moving your arm will help promote blood flow and relieve any muscular pain.
  • Apply a cold compress to the spot where you got your shot, to reduce any swelling and injection site pain.
  • Pop an OTC pain medication — like Tylenol or Advil — after your appointment. The CDC says you shouldn't take these meds before your appointment, because it's unclear whether doing so could interfere with the vaccine effectiveness.

The CDC notes that if any "redness or tenderness" near your injection site gets worse after 24 hours, or if your side effects don't seem to be dissipating after a few days, you should contact a doctor or healthcare provider.

So far, 19% of fully vaccinated people in the U.S. have gotten their booster doses, according to CDC data.

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