We know vaccines – including the COVID-19 vaccines currently being administered under emergency use authorization (EUA) in the fight against COVID-19 – can come with side effects. These side effects are common and are actually good news. Pain and swelling at the injection site, along with fever, chills, headache and fatigue, are showing your immune system is responding appropriately to the vaccine. These side effects, which seem to be more common in younger people and usually last 1-2 days, are largely an indication of a healthy immune system.
While it may seem tempting to take premedication, like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) to prevent these side effects, this is not currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Taking these medications before getting your immunization may mask the symptoms of an allergic reaction. And if you’re having an allergic reaction, we want to know about it, because it might require medical intervention or signal that you’re not a good candidate to receive a second dose of vaccine.
Another consideration is that taking premedication could theoretically reduce the antibody response to the vaccine. While one study published last spring showed taking ibuprofen blunted the antibody response of those who developed COVID-19 infection, this has not yet been studied with the COVID-19 vaccines. There is currently no scientific evidence that premedication will make the COVID-19 vaccines less effective.
So, when can you take medications? If after taking the vaccine you feel your symptoms remain unmanageable, call your physician to determine what medications are best for you to take. If approved by your physician, taking medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage side effects after your vaccine should make you feel better and should not affect your response to the vaccine.
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Dr. Robert Citronberg is Executive Medical Director of Infectious Disease and Prevention for Advocate Aurora Health.