When it comes to your chances of having a bad reaction to one of the three vaccines available to protect you against COVID-19, consider this: You are much more likely to get into a car accident on the way to get your shot, says Dr. Emily Landon at UChicago Medicine.
As the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines reach more people — with Pfizer now approved by the FDA for kids ages 12-18 — more people are sharing their reactions to the shots with work colleagues, on social media and to anyone who will listen. They might even start to make you super worried about your own reaction.
Landon’s simplest advice: Don’t be. A sore arm, feeling tired, experiencing a headache or even having fever or chills are all completely normal, she says.
“If you got that, yay! It means your immune system is doing what it’s supposed to do. The good news is, if you get lucky and don’t have that reaction, your immune system is still doing what it’s supposed to do. You’re just lucky,” she says.
What no one knows yet is why some people have side effects and others don’t, she says. But you can be assured the vaccines are safe, she says.
“The reality is these side effects are not dangerous, they’re inconvenient. You feel bad for a day. Some of the people feel that way and some of the people don’t. It probably has to do with how aggressively your immune system is responding,” Landon says. “I think you should wear it as a badge of honor, your immune system did a great job.”
What might help alleviate the most common side effects
It’s common to hear someone say they felt like they were hit by a bus after their vaccine.
Landon herself had nothing but a sore arm after her first shot so she figured her second would be a breeze. It wasn’t. About 12 hours after her vaccine, she had a fever and her body ached. “I felt pretty bad,” she says. But, she says, she slept and by afternoon the following day, she was completely fine.
Unlike a cold or flu, the symptoms aren’t going to linger. Most people are back to themselves quickly, she says. Symptoms are similar in children and adults.
Here’s her advice:
Take Tylenol, Motrin or Ibuprofen. Landon says if you want to be a purist, wait until you feel stiffness or pain before taking something. Very small studies in children showed a lower immune response in kids who were given over-the-counter medicine before vaccines.
Tiredness, nausea, body aches
Rest and hydrate. “The reason you feel tired is because your body is using a ton of energy to build up your immune response. Your immune system is doing the equivalent of running a marathon trying to get prepared to fight off COVID. That’s why you feel that way,” she says.
When it comes to hydrating, it doesn’t need to be anything fancy or in larger quantities, despite what you might hear from friends. Just get your recommended eight glasses a day of water before and after your shot. It’s good advice every day of the year.
Swelling at injection site
Some people receiving the Moderna vaccine are seeing a red, tender area around the injection site about a week after the shot. Landon suggests a cold cloth and antihistamines to battle any itching. It’s not an allergic reaction, she says, simply another immune response.
No side effects
Landon still recommends rest. “You still might want to take it easy the day after the shot to give your body the chance to make as many antibodies as it possibly can.”
And try not to be overly concerned about side effects. “They are not a reaction to something in the shot, they are not your body going rogue, they are not anything bad happening to you. They are literally an alarm clock for your immune system, and they are reminding you to rest and let your immune system do its job,” Landon says.
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