If you're experiencing common side effects such as a headache, fever or chills after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, it's perfectly fine to take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve your discomfort, experts say.
But don't take those medications before you get your shot, unless advised to do so by your doctor, because you could dampen the effectiveness of the vaccination, said Gregory Poland, M.D., an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and director of Mayo's vaccine research group.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also advises against the use of pain relievers before vaccination “for the purpose of preventing post-vaccination symptoms.”
Tell the CDC About Your Side Effects
Health officials are tracking side effects with an easy app called v-safe you download to your smartphone. Once you get your first dose, your health care provider will give you information about how to get started. The daily survey takes only about 30 seconds, Poland said, and it gives health officials important safety information.
The recommendation stems from a few small studies, mostly on children, that found taking pain relievers before getting a vaccine decreased the immune response, Poland said, meaning your body might have a harder time recognizing and fighting off the coronavirus in the future. Poland notes that the research on the topic is limited and results have been inconsistent. Still, he and other experts say, it's best to err on the side of caution.
If you take a pain reliever regularly for a chronic condition like arthritis, you may want to skip it the morning before you receive the vaccine, Poland said, but talk to your doctor first. If it's a medication you can't get through the day without, you're probably better off taking it, he said.
Side effects can be more severe after second dose
Adults age 55 and older typically have fewer side effects than younger people, but you may still feel under the weather for a few days after your vaccine.
"It means your body is doing what you asked it to do,” said Buddy Creech, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville, Tennessee.
Expect more side effects after the second dose. In addition to a sore arm, common symptoms include tiredness, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills and fever, according to the CDC.
Dean Blumberg, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at UC Davis Health, pointed out two other post-vaccine symptoms doctors have been seeing: a rash or itchiness around the injection site that arises five to 10 days after vaccination — sometimes referred to as “COVID arm” — and swollen lymph nodes under your arm.