Q:I finally have an appointment for my COVID-19 vaccination secured. Is there anything I can or should do to make it the most effective? Does it matter if I take ibuprofen or Tylenol? Can I drink alcohol between the two doses?
With the slow and chaotic rollout of the COVID vaccine, I am thrilled to hear that you have your appointment to get your first shot. It can almost feel like winning the lottery just to get that coveted appointment. Now, the most important thing you can do to make it the most effective is to show up and get it!
While there are lots of rumors that abound about the vaccine, I am here to set the record straight on a few of them. The most common side effects of the shots include pain and swelling on your arm where you get the shot, and flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, headache, fevers, chills and body aches. These are actually signs that your body is mounting protection to the virus. The Center for Disease Control says that it is OK to take ibuprofen or Tylenol if you have these side effects after getting the vaccine, but you should always check with your doctor first.
What about taking these pain relievers before the vaccine to help prevent side effects? That could be problematic and has the potential for decreasing the effectiveness of the vaccine, although further research needs to be done to fully answer this question.
The concern is that your immune system responds to vaccines by a process of controlled inflammation. These inflammatory mediators are an important part of the process for your body to create antibodies to the virus needed to recognize it in the future and prevent disease. Over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil, Motrin or Tylenol could decrease the production of these important inflammatory mediators. In fact, a recent study out of Yale found that mice given these anti-inflammatory pain relievers before the COVID vaccine produced fewer antibodies to COVID than the mice who were not given these drugs.
Beyond medications, applying a cool wet cloth to the injection site and drinking lots of fluids if feverish can be helpful after the shot. In most people, the side effects of the shot go away within a few days. More people do experience side effects after the second of the two shots (if you are getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine), as the first shot triggers the immune response and the second shot “boosts” the response.
As far as drinking alcohol before or between the doses, there is no mentioned evidence that consuming alcohol can decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine. Heavy drinking in general can have a negative effect on your immune system, so moderation is always the key if you are planning to celebrate getting your shot.
Finally, I just want to clear up a few other things that I get asked about the vaccine. None of the vaccines can actually give you COVID. None of the vaccines can make you contagious to anyone who has not yet received the shot. And my personal favorite: No, the government is not putting a chip in the vaccine that will track you for the rest of time.
What the vaccine will do is protect you from serious illness, hospitalization and death. And your appointment will be a small part of the road to recovery to getting our lives back to “near” normal.
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