Curiosity about the COVID-19 vaccines is at an all-time high as more people become eligible to receive it. It’s about 95% effective at protecting someone from contracting COVID-19 – an immune response that occurs two weeks after receiving the second dose.

Many people may experience mild to moderate expected effects after vaccination, particularly after the second dose. At least 80% of people will develop at least one symptom, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Potential effects – including arm pain, low grade fever, chills, body aches, fatigue and headache – usually resolve themselves within one to three days. These are all normal responses and a good sign the immune system is doing its job.

A few Novant Health team members shared their experiences, so people know what to expect when it’s their turn to roll up their sleeve and get vaccinated.  

Maybe a ‘couch day’ after the second dose

Daniel Brewer, a neonatal nurse practitioner at Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital, recommends a “couch day” after the second dose. He said the onset of some expected effects began about 12 hours after getting vaccinated. Overnight, Brewer had chills, a headache and muscle and joint pain. He woke up the next day fatigued, but his symptoms resolved themselves in about 24 hours.

“For me, it felt like my body was actively building antibodies or working on fighting something new, but I was comforted in knowing that these were potential effects ahead of time,” Brewer said. “I definitely recommend a couch day the day following your second dose.”

Expected effects are more common after the second dose

Physician assistant Becky DeCamillis at Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists in Winston-Salem also experienced arm soreness, which lasted about three days.

Becky DeCamillis smiles after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine.
Becky DeCamillis smiles after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition, about six hours after her second dose, she developed a headache, some mild body aches, and fatigue. A few hours later, DeCamillis experienced chills and a low-grade fever.

“Feeling a little under the weather for a day or so was well worth the reward of being protected from COVID-19,” DeCamillis. “I’m so grateful to have received this vaccine and can’t wait for my family to get it, too.”

Overall, her symptoms lasted about 36 hours from the time of second dose. Her recommendations to ease symptoms include:

  • For a sore arm, use a cool compress to the area. Even though it’s sore, using the arm more will encourage blood flow and actually help decrease the pain.
  • For systemic symptoms like headache, fevers, fatigue and joint pains, over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken after vaccination (if medically appropriate). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend taking these medications prior to getting the vaccine in order to prevent symptoms, because we don’t know how those medications may impact our immune response.

DeCamillis has also heard from colleagues who had some short-lived gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, specifically), and others who had swollen lymph nodes for a few days.

“We’re seeing a higher side effect rate after the second dose, and in younger people rather than those over age 65. So, for those who are concerned about missing work after the vaccine, if possible, you may want to consider scheduling the second dose the day before you’re scheduled to be off work anyway. Drink lots of water and rest if you can.”

Other key takeaways:

  • Even if you have side effects after the first dose, it’s important to receive both doses to get full protection against COVID-19, unless your health care provider advises otherwise.
  • The vaccine CANNOT give you COVID-19. It does not contain the virus. Side effects from the vaccine are due to your body’s immune response working to form protection against the virus.
Bria Benson receives a COVID-19 vaccine.
Bria Benson receives a COVID-19 vaccine.

‘I didn’t hesitate’

Bria Benson, an infectious diseases clinical pharmacy specialist at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, didn’t hesitate to receive both doses of the vaccine.

“I tolerated both shots really well,” she said.

Benson’s only reaction was a sore arm and fatigue, something she had expected.

What to do if expected effects linger

If you notice worsening arm swelling, redness or pain more than 24 hours after vaccination – or if your symptoms of fever, malaise, fatigue and body aches last more than 48 to 72 hours – it’s recommended that you contact your health care provider.

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