Health Do’s and Don’ts After Covid Vaccination

Photo: Alex Mecl/Unsplash

For the most part, getting a Covid-19 vaccination shouldn’t change any of your typical health, fitness, or wellness routines, or at least not for more than a day or two. Still, it’s reasonable to have questions about whether you should hold off on certain things, such as working out, drinking alcohol, or taking certain medications. Below are some of the common questions people have about what they should or shouldn’t do after vaccination related to their own health. If you think of something not here, leave a comment to let me know so I can investigate the question and update this.

Are there any medications I should avoid after getting a Covid-19 vaccination?

A common circulating question is whether it’s okay to take painkillers and fever reducers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin. As I noted in the big Covid-19 vaccine FAQ on Elemental, the CDC does not recommend taking any of these medications before vaccination for the sake of preventing fever, headache, or other aches. Physicians advise against it because limited evidence suggests it could blunt your body’s immune response.

“I tell people not to premedicate but to treat symptoms as they arise,” says Peter A. Lipson, MD, an internist at Michigan Healthcare Professionals. Basically, wait until you get the vaccine, see what happens and how you feel, and if you experience fever, headache, or other pains, take your preferred painkiller/fever reducer then. There is not evidence to suggest taking acetaminophen or an NSAID after vaccination will negatively affect your immune response. Acetaminophen is recommended over NSAIDs in pregnant women. If you experience pain, inflammation, or similar issues at the injection site, including delayed reactions like “Covid arm,” use ice packs, advises Judy Stone, MD, an infectious disease physician and journalist.

If you take any immunosuppressive medications, such as biologics for autoimmune diseases, or you’re receiving treatments for cancer, it’s best to check with your specialist (your oncologist, immunologist, rheumatologist, etc.) to find out if you need to skip any doses or wait to get vaccinated between cycles of medications or treatments. Not much data exists on the vaccine and immunosuppressive medication so far, so you’ll need to rely on your physician’s clinical expertise and what we know about other types of vaccines.

Can I exercise after getting the Covid-19 vaccine?

No specific recommendations exist related to exercise after getting the Covid-19 vaccine. It’s all going to depend on how you feel. If you’re feeling crappy from the vaccine, especially if you have muscle cramps or aches, skip the workout until they subside. Your body is telling you that you need rest, and your immune system probably needs the rest to do its job. If you have the stronger side effects of fever, chills, or fatigue, you should definitely wait until they pass before going for a run or doing a set of dead lifts. If you exercise at a class, it’s probably best not to schedule one in the first two days after each vaccine dose until you know how you’re feeling.

If you’re feeling fine, however, you can try physical activity in the day or two afterward as long as you start slowly and pay attention to your body. You might not have immediately felt any side effects, but once you start exerting yourself, you might find you tire more quickly or easily in the first few days after vaccination. Some physicians advise against any exercise in the first 24 hours after the vaccine, but that’s based more on a “take it easy and see how it goes” approach rather than any data showing that exercise could harm you or the vaccine response.

Can I drink alcohol soon after my Covid-19 vaccination?

Can you? Yes. Should you? Meh… It’s not going to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, but it’s still not the best idea to consume alcohol in the first 24 to 48 hours after vaccination. First, you’re likely to feel tired or achy from the vaccine already, especially if it’s your second dose of one of the mRNA vaccines, so adding a toxin like alcohol to your body when it’s in the process of learning to fight off a specific pathogen could make you feel worse. Alcohol also contributes to dehydration, which can lead to headaches (possibly triggering migraines), and muscle or joint pain. Since all of those are also possible side effects of the vaccine, drinking alcohol soon after vaccination — especially if you end up with a hangover — makes it harder for you to tell what’s causing what, as physicians told Health magazine.

That said, no official recommendations exist to say people should abstain from alcohol before or after the vaccine, and the trial protocols for the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines neither asked people about alcohol consumption nor advised participants to abstain. If you’re simply hoping to have a glass of wine to unwind or perhaps clink a glass of bubbly to celebrate getting vaccinated, that’s probably fine, but the best thing you can drink is plenty of water.

Can I get another vaccine after my Covid-19 vaccination?

Childhood vaccinations that are given at the same appointment have been rigorously tested in different combinations to learn whether receiving two or more vaccines at the same time will affect side effects, safety, or effectiveness. For example, receiving the varicella (chickenpox) and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines at the same time can increase the likelihood of fever. But Covid-19 vaccines haven’t been tested with any co-administered vaccines, so there’s no data on whether receiving another vaccine with or soon after a Covid-19 vaccine will affect its effectiveness or side effects. Doctors recommend delaying any optional or nonessential vaccines for two weeks after getting either dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Lipson says. That includes the flu vaccine, Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis), pneumonia vaccine, or shingles vaccine, for example. “If, however you step on a rusty nail, for example, you should get your tetanus shot either way,” Lipson says.

How long does it take to build immunity after getting vaccinated?

The Pfizer or Moderna requires two doses while the Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose to be fully vaccinated. But you aren’t automatically immune the day after you get your second dose of an mRNA vaccine or your dose of a J&J one. Your body needs time to detect the foreign substance in your body, identify it as an intruder, and build up antibodies to fight it. That takes about two weeks, so consider yourself truly, fully immunized two weeks after your second Pfizer/Moderna dose or after your J&J dose.

Anything else to know?

The second dose of the mRNA vaccines tends to result in more intense side effects than the first dose, so plan accordingly in case you end up with fatigue, fever, chills, headache, etc. “Try not to schedule anything important in the 24 hours after dose two (for two-dose regimens),” says F. Perry Wilson, MD, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine. “You may not feel up to it.”

But it is a good idea to sign up for the CDC’s V-Safe program if you have a smartphone and respond to the regular texts asking about any side effects you’re experiencing, says Kara Gavin, research and policy media relations manager at Michigan Medicine. Even if you haven’t experienced any side effects, responding to those texts provides useful data to the CDC in tracking reactions to different Covid-19 vaccines. If you don’t have a smartphone, report any serious reactions to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

Generally speaking, “listen to your body and act appropriately,” says Jesse Hackell, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital. Nothing is off limits if you’re feeling well, he says, “but continue to mask, distance, wash hands, etc.”

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