Avoid Painkillers Before and After Covid Vaccine, Experts Say

Mild fever or other symptoms means the vaccine is working. Don’t mess with that.

Photo: James Yarema/Unsplash

Experts say that people should avoid painkillers before and after getting a Covid-19 vaccine, to give it the best chance of doing what it’s supposed to do: stimulate your immune system. Mild symptoms like fever, chills, headache, and tiredness indicate the vaccine is tricking your cells into learning how to fend off the coronavirus.

“These symptoms mean your immune system is revving up and the vaccine is working,” says Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Don’t use them beforehand. Try very hard not to.”

“This builds immunological memory,” says Michael Mina, MD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Painkillers are known to interfere with effectiveness of flu shots. The possibility has not been studied with Covid vaccines, but Mina and other experts say it’s possible, so they advise skipping painkillers if you can bear it. If you’re already routinely taking them for a health condition, you should not stop without talking to your doctor.

“Don’t use them beforehand,” Mina told a group of reporters last week. And afterward, “try very hard not to.”

Know your drugs

If you must take something for aches or fever after a Covid shot, all three major classes of over-the-counter painkillers can be effective, Mina and other experts say. Each has different potential side effects, both physical and mental.

Ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) target the site of pain and can also reduce inflammation. Known to cause stomach irritation. Brands include Advil and Motrin. Naproxen (including Aleve) is also an NSAID.

Aspirin is also an NSAID and known to cause stomach irritation. It should not be taken daily without a doctor’s advice, and it is not recommended for anyone 17 or younger.

Acetaminophen (including Tylenol) targets pain signals in the nervous system, instead of the source. Easier on the stomach.

There’s no firm evidence to suggest one any of the three options is more or less likely to dampen the immunity-building process of a vaccine.

If the shot itself causes pain, try covering it with a cool, wet cloth — or exercise your arm, the CDC suggests. To alleviate fever, drink lots of fluid and wear light clothing. If redness or swelling at the shot site worsen after 24 hours, or if flu-like symptoms persist for several days, call a health care provider.

What if you have Covid-19?

The vaccine does not cause Covid-19. Most people who do catch the disease by another means can recover at home, and painkillers are among the few helpful remedies available without a prescription for mild Covid symptoms. There’s no conclusive research to favor one painkiller over another.

The World Health Organization recommends acetaminophen for treating pain or fever associated with Covid-19, based on some early anecdotal concerns and some research suggesting ibuprofen or other NSAIDS might contribute to worsening systems. The general consensus, however, is that any of the three painkillers are probably fine, if used in recommended doses.

“We are recommending acetaminophen,” says Paul Sax, MD, clinical director of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “There’s still this theoretical concern about ibuprofen, although it’s probably fine,” Sax tells Elemental.

Explainer of things, independent health and science journalist, author, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience and Space dot com.

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