February 12, 2021
Aches and pains? Mild fever? Headache?
We’re all likely to take a few over-the-counter painkillers to ease our misery. When the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine starts working in the body, all of these side effects can be experienced. Yet many fear that taking painkillers will interfere with the effect of the vaccine, leaving them less protected against infection.
It’s all about timing, according to Dr. Steven Valassis, chair of emergency medicine at St. Vincent Medical Center in Bridgeport, which is part of Hartford HealthCare. He took over-the-counter Tylenol to ease the body aches he felt after the second dose of the Moderna vaccine recently.
Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended pain medication after vaccination as needed — and after talking to your doctor — but not before a vaccination.
“When we get vaccinated, we want our body to have an immune response to the vaccine,” he said. “It is the body that recognizes the spike protein and makes antibodies against it that will protect us from COVID. People should not take any medicine before the vaccine as it may lessen this reaction. After someone has been vaccinated, if they are uncomfortable, it is reasonable to take something to feel better.
Dr. Valassis’ reaction to the dose was not as severe as he has heard others report – he had no fever, chills or severe fatigue – and it was brief.
“These symptoms are quite short-lived,” he said. “When you think about what COVID can do to the body, it’s pretty minimal.”
A colleague, Dr Daniel Gottschall, vice president of medical affairs for HHC’s Fairfield region (including St. Vincent), said vaccine symptoms are preferable to COVID illness. A day or two of recovery after the vaccine shouldn’t deter people from getting it, he said.
“We know how important the vaccine is to prevent disease and prevent people from getting really sick from disease,” he said.
The reaction to the second shot, he said, indicates that the vaccine is working. Hours after injection, the vaccine prompts cells in the arm to create a harmless spike protein like that found on the surface of the coronavirus.
Your immune system recognizes that the protein has no place and triggers the production of antibodies that prompt the immune system to attack it. The immune system reacts more strongly to the second hit because the body is more likely to “recognize” the new protein, according to Dr. Gottschall.