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What Are the Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines? ​

What symptoms to expect after getting boosted with the latest vaccines ​

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Health officials are recommending that adults 65 and older roll up their sleeves this spring for a COVID-19 vaccine to help restore any protection that has waned since their last dose.

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 continue to remain highest among the 65-plus population, and health experts anticipate that COVID-19 could still be a threat in the warmer months, as the U.S. has experienced spring and summer surges in the past.

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This spring shot is the same vaccine that was updated and introduced in September 2023, and health officials say it continues to provide protection against the coronavirus variants that are currently circulating.

Three different versions of the vaccine are available — an mRNA shot from Pfizer-BioNTech, another from Moderna, and a protein-based vaccine from Novavax. Here’s what you need to know about any possible side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines.

No surprises from common side effects

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the common side effects that can accompany the updated 2023 shots are in line with those of the previous versions.

“So, if you had a sore arm before, if you had a little bit of achiness, maybe a little low-grade fever, you can expect that to happen again,” Kristin Englund, M.D., infectious disease specialist with Cleveland Clinic, said in a news release.

  • Moderna booster side effects: Pain at the injection site was the most commonly reported side effect among people vaccinated with Moderna’s vaccine, according to data reviewed by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel. About 70 percent of people reported it, followed by fatigue, muscle aches, headache, joint pain, chills, nausea and vomiting, and fever.
  • Pfizer booster side effects: Pain at the injection site was also the most commonly reported reaction with Pfizer’s vaccine, according to the company; up to 90 percent of people reported it. Other typical side effects included fatigue, headache, chills, muscle pain, joint pain and fever.
  • Novavax booster side effects: The most common reactions reported in clinical trials testing the Novavax vaccine include headache, nausea or vomiting, muscle pain, joint pain, pain and tenderness at the injection site, fatigue and general discomfort.

Alleviating side effects

The good news: If you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 — and millions of Americans have been — you likely already know what to expect and how your body may react.

“I think people also understand how to manage the side effects better in terms of drinking plenty of water prior to getting a vaccine, drinking plenty of water after you get the vaccine, taking it easy the next day,” Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and assistant dean for medical center affairs at the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, told AARP.


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Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever afterward can help manage any discomfort, he added. Just know it’s not advised to take these medicines ahead of time to try to prevent potential side effects. And applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth to the injection site can help to relieve pain or swelling on the arm where you got the shot, the CDC said.

Another tip: If your schedule allows, clear your calendar the day after your vaccine. “If you work during the week, you might want to get vaccinated on Friday or Saturday so that you don’t have to work when you’re not feeling great,” said Kawsar Talaat, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Just know that one day of not feeling well from the vaccine is far better than several days of not feeling well with COVID,” she added.

Not everyone experiences side effects after a COVID-19 vaccine; for most who do, symptoms tend to be mild to moderate and go away in a few days. That said, if your side effects are worrying or linger longer, it’s important to call your doctor. Serious reactions are rare, the CDC said, but they can happen.

Anaphylaxis, a severe type of allergic reaction that can occur after any type of vaccination, has occurred at a rate of approximately 5 cases per 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, the CDC reports. Cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) have also been reported following COVID-19 vaccination, though mostly in younger age groups.

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Vaccines are key to preventing severe illness 

COVID-19 is still sending nearly 20,000 Americans to the hospital each week, the latest data shows, and experts say another shot for older adults can help prevent that number from swelling even more. 

“Most COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk,” CDC Director Mandy Cohen, M.D., said in a statement.

Keep in mind that older adults have access to two other tools that can help them avoid illness from respiratory viruses: the annual influenza vaccine,and a new RSV vaccine, which protects against complications from respiratory syncytial virus — a common bug that hospitalizes as many as 160,000 people 65 and older each year.

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“We also know that you can get more than one virus at the same time and that people who do get multiple viruses tend to be sicker. And so, again, anything you can do to prevent infection is good,” Talaat said.

And for those who do get COVID-19, antiviral treatments can help keep an infection from progressing to severe illness.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include new information.

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