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How will I feel after my COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

There are various stories about what to expect after your COVID-19 vaccine. Millions have received it, and the vast majority have experienced only mild symptoms or none at all, with serious reactions very rare. Forewarned is forearmed, so let’s go through the most likely symptoms for the hours and days after your vaccine and what might help.

What are the most likely immediate effects?

There’s no disguising this, a needle will go into your upper arm – but it’s tiny, and just for a few seconds, so it shouldn’t be too painful. It might be a little red, sore, and there could be swelling around the injection site, but this should subside by the next day or so.

Simple pain relief can help. You could try some acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and a cool, damp cloth may help to ease any soreness.

Can I catch COVID-19 from the shot?

No, you can’t catch COVID-19, as there is no live coronavirus in the vaccine. Scientists have used inactivated (or dead) parts of coronavirus in some types of vaccine and a different virus (adenovirus) that has been inactivated in others. However, you are provoking the immune system to make a response. So, it fights components of the vaccine as if it’s a mini version of the virus, building memory cells, so you are well-equipped to fend off the real virus should you meet it in the future.

You may get some symptoms that look like COVID-19, such as feeling the chills, a fever, headache or muscle aches, or feeling tired. You can stock up on products from the pharmacy ahead of time, and symptoms should clear within 3 days.

It’s more common for younger people, those less than 65, to get these symptoms.

If you have a fever, persistent cough, or change to your sense of taste or smell, these could indicate you have caught COVID-19, and you and your family members should isolate, and you should order a test. While it’s understandable to blame the vaccine, you're likely to have caught this in the days before the vaccine – it takes about 5 days for symptoms to appear, but it can take up to 14 days. It’s even possible to have caught it directly after the vaccine, as it takes up to 12 days to build an immune response from the vaccine.

What will help my flu-like symptoms?

It’s worthwhile stocking up on some basics to help alleviate symptoms so that you can carry on your day with minimal disturbance, letting your immune system do its job to build up antibodies post-vaccination.

Common symptoms like headaches, muscle aches, fever, and pain can be eased with acetaminophen. These come in 500 mg tablets – take one or two tablets up to four times daily. If there are additional aches, fever, or pain, ibuprofen at a dose of 200 mg to 400 mg up to three times a day can be added in.

If you are taking any other medicines or suffer from any long-term conditions, have a chat with your pharmacist beforehand to make sure it’s safe for you.

It’s also important to stay optimally hydrated, especially if you have a high fever and are sweating. Dehydration also tends to make headaches worse and can leave you feeling lethargic and drained if you lose lots of salts through sweating, for example. Take regular sips of water every 30 minutes to an hour if possible. In addition, you may also find using an oral rehydration salt electrolyte drink helpful.

A relaxing soak with some bath salts, such as Epsom salts, may help soothe achy muscles.

The temporary lethargy and tiredness for the few days after vaccination may be relieved by taking a mild pick-me-up of B vitamins – a supplement like Berocca would contain these.

What if I have an allergic response?

Rigorous testing and the roll-out to millions of people has shown that all the approved vaccines are very safe, and extreme reactions are rare. The vaccination center team will ask you questions about any previous allergic reactions and may recommend a particular vaccine for you. Any extreme reaction will happen within a few minutes, so they ask you to wait for 15 minutes afterward to be on the safe side. Staff at vaccination centers are trained to attend to any emergencies, so rest assured medical attention is at hand.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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