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Published on March 01, 2021

Here's What to Expect After Getting Your COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine: What to Do After Being Vaccinated

What should you do in the first hours, days and weeks after you've received a COVID-19 vaccine? Get the answers from Chief Physician Executive Bruce Swords, MD, PhD, in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.

What side effects might you have after getting the first and second doses, and then what steps can you take if you experience those side effects?

"Well, first, I'll tell you thanks for having me, and I would break this down into the first couple of hours. The first fifteen to thirty minutes after your vaccine, you would be monitored wherever you get the vaccine, whether it's with Cone Health or any of the other vaccine providers. The reason that we do that is to make sure that there's no immediate reaction to the vaccine itself. Once people are past that first 15 to 30 minutes, most people are not going to feel anything initially, so in the first few hours really, very few if any symptoms other than you'll feel like you got stuck in the arm with a needle, because you have. But you really shouldn't anticipate very many reactions within the first 2 to 4 hours."

Can you take ibuprofen or acetaminophen either before or after your shot?

"If you normally are able to take ibuprofen, the answer is yes. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it just because avoiding medications in general is a good idea and if you are going to start with something, maybe acetaminophen - Tylenol is a brand name of that - before ibuprofen. Any of those things are safe as long as you normally can take them."

Are the side effects different for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine versus the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines?

"In general, no. The data with the Johnson & Johnson vaccines from their study is pretty typical of most vaccines. Potentially a sorearm. Maybe some minor flu-like symptoms after the immunization, there would be a lot of similarities."

What are the signs of a severe reactions that might require medical attention?

"Most people who get the vaccine, again, are going to really feel fine. They again might have a little sore arm later on after the vaccine, or maybe even more likely after the second vaccine. People can develop more flu-like symptoms - sort of tired, achy all over. People can have headaches, a sore arm that is different than just the immunization site. All of those things are possible."

"If by chance people start having a reaction that feels more severe than the symptoms I just outlined, like maybe an allergic reaction, developing a rash or a tongue swelling - those are almost unheard of, but if those sorts of things happen, that would be the time to contact your physician."

If you take medications on a daily basis, should you keep taking that daily medication after you get the shot?

"The answer to that is almost always yes. There may be really rare circumstances where that wouldn't be the case, but by and large, your physician would have talked to you about that already. So continue your medications after the immunization."

Should we continue to wear a mask, wash our hands and wait apart after we get that second vaccination?

"Good question, and certainly even if you've had your second vaccine, within the first few days, the data is that you are not as immune to the virus as you will be 2 weeks after you receive the second vaccine. And so no matter when you have the vaccine in general, the right idea is to continue the three W's."

How long after the shot will you have immunity, and when can you stop the three W's?

"So the first question: How long do you have immunity? The truth is we really don't know right now. So these studies, you remember the time frame, they started in July. We started giving them out to the general public in groups starting in December, and so we really haven't had enough experience to figure out the duration of immunity. So we don't know the answer to that."

"In response to wearing a mask, there will be a lot of "it depends" answers here. If you're going to the grocery store and you're fully immunized, you should wear a mask, wash your hands and stay away from people. If you are going to congregate with two or three, four or five other people who've also had the immunization, your risk of becoming sick or even getting the disease in that scenario is very low."

Just how important is it to get the second shot if you've had the first shot?

"So with the Pfizer and Moderna immunizations, it's important. And the reason it's important is that the studies were designed in that manner. So people got the first shot, and three or four weeks later, they got a second immunization, depending on the vaccine that was given. And so for the time being it's important because that's the data that we have and we can speak with some certainty about what immunity the second shot gives you. There really have not been well-studied protocols using just one immunization for the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna immunizations."

Why is there a recommendation that you should wait 4 to 6 weeks after your second shot to get your mammogram?

"I support that recommendation, and the reason is that when someone gets a vaccine, their body, our bodies are developing an immune response to that vaccine, and it's possible that part of that immune response is developing enlarged Lymph nodes, because lymph nodes are part of the immune system. And sometimes those enlarged lymph nodes can be picked up on a mammogram, where a woman could have a false positive mammogram in that scenario. It's not likely to happen, but it is absolutely worth waiting 4 to 6 weeks after your last immunization to get a mammogram."

How important is it to keep a record of our COVID-19 vaccination? What should you do if you lose your COVID-19 vaccine card?

"All of us should keep all of our immunization records... Keep the card and I have kept my card and I've taken a picture of it because it's less likely that I'm gonna lose my phone than it is that I'm gonna lose the immunization card."

"[If you lose your card], there's a record of people who have received their immunizations, and the first place to start would be with the provider that gave you the immunizations. So if Cone Health provided your immunizations, contact us. If it was the health department or another provider, start there. And they should be able to recreate the card."

Will another shot be needed in the future?

"Really good question, and I don't like answering questions with 'I don't know,' but I don't know. And I don't think anybody knows, and the reason is - I'll back up to that we just started studying these immunizations in July, we've just started giving them out to the general public in December, and we don't know what the full term immunity is for these vaccines, and so we will learn more over the next several weeks, several months."

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