With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that more than 171 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S. alone, public health experts say they're cautiously optimistic about finally seeing the end of this pandemic. If you're joining the fold and getting your vaccine soon, you likely have some questions: Will I have side effects? What precautions should I continue to take? What can I do after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?
Answers to those questions used to be less clear, but now that there are several months of data available from both clinical trials and the real world, we know a lot more about what to expect after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Here are a few points to keep in mind as you prepare for your appointment.
Side effects can vary
Some people don't get any side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, while others may have some swelling, redness or pain at the injection site, according to the CDC. You may also have some symptoms throughout your body, such as fatigue, headache, nausea, fever, chills or muscle pain.
These symptoms may be widely reported, but they don't happen to everyone. For example, in safety data that Pfizer-BioNTech reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 63% of people felt tired, 55% experienced headaches and 38% had muscle pain. Only about 14% of people reported a fever.
If you're getting a vaccine that requires two doses, such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, your second dose may cause more intense side effects. However, this means that your immune system is doing its job of protecting you from the virus that causes COVID-19. Side effects tend to go away within a few days, but if they don't, or if the injection site pain or redness gets worse after 24 hours, talk to your provider.
Some people may experience allergic reactions, though this is rare. You'll be asked to stay at the vaccination site for 15 to 30 minutes so vaccinators can monitor and treat any reactions that might occur.
You're not "immune" right away
Vaccines work by giving the immune system a "key" to fight future infections, but this key takes a while to develop in the body, typically a few weeks. That's why the CDC states that people are not considered "fully vaccinated" until two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or the only dose of a single-dose vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.
Even when you are considered fully vaccinated, you should still take certain precautions. While data indicates that vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19, there is still much to learn, such as how long immunity lasts and how well vaccines work against variants of the virus.
You can resume many normal activities
Once you've been fully vaccinated, you can get back to enjoying normal activities. The CDC keeps an updated list of such activities, which may change as new data emerges.
For now, the CDC says that fully vaccinated people can:
- Resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart in non-healthcare settings, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
- Travel in the United States without getting tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel.
You should still take precautions in certain settings
While vaccinations afford a bit more flexibility, the CDC states that fully vaccinated people should still take precautions like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing in certain settings, such as:
- If required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
- When using public transportation, like traveling on buses, or in transportation hubs, like an airport.
- In healthcare settings, such as your provider’s office or a nursing home.
The CDC also notes that if fully vaccinated people have a medical condition or take medicine that weakens their immune system, they should speak with their healthcare provider about which precautions they should keep taking.
You're doing your part
It may seem like such a simple task, but getting vaccinated really makes a difference — both for your own protection and for the protection of others. Just make sure you follow your healthcare provider or vaccinator's instructions during your appointment.
One last thing: You may get a fun sticker to show off your newly "vaxxed" status. Wear it proudly. You might just motivate someone else to get vaccinated!