How to Prepare Before Getting Vaccinated

Some things to know before going to your appointment

A person points to her Covid-19 vaccine sticker after she received it at Six Flags Magic Mountain on February 2, 2021 in Valencia, California. Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

accines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are slowly but steadily becoming available in the United States, and if you’re eligible to receive one in your state, you may be headed to a vaccination appointment soon. Preparing to receive your dose — whether it’s your first or second — can make your vaccination and the following days go as smoothly as possible. Here are some things to keep in mind before you go.

Preparing for reactions and side effects

Like all vaccines, those from Moderna and Pfizer come with a risk of reactions and side effects. (Reaction refers to symptoms that commonly occur after vaccination, while side effects are unexpected and rare adverse health effects resulting from vaccination.)

Not everyone who gets vaccinated will experience reactions or side effects. The most common reactions for both vaccines include pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site and chills, tiredness, and headache elsewhere in the body — essentially, feeling like you’re sick with the flu. Fever, chills, tiredness, and headache are most common after the second dose. (For everything you need to know about reactions and side effects and how they may differ by age group, I highly recommend the excellent Covid-19 vaccine FAQ Tara Haelle wrote for Elemental.)

You can prepare for a sore arm and discomfort at the injection site by being ready to take an over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or an NSAID after your vaccination, but discuss it with your physician first: Some experts recommend avoiding painkillers because it’s possible they may interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine. There isn’t any research that supports taking these drugs before vaccination, and many experts don’t recommend it. After vaccination, you can ease discomfort in a sore arm by applying a cool washcloth to it and exercising it. In case you have a fever after getting vaccinated, be ready to drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.

It’s also a good idea to check with your physician to make sure that any medication you are taking will not interfere with the vaccine.

As Haelle noted in her FAQ, since the second dose sometimes elicits a stronger reaction, some experts recommend scheduling your appointment on a Friday or taking the next day off work. But remember that all of these reactions are normal, will resolve in a few days, and shouldn’t deter you from getting vaccinated.

One side effect that’s been documented in a small number of people is a severe allergic reaction, which I’ll discuss below.

What to know about allergies

A very small number of people have experienced a severe anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine. According to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported by STAT News on January 22, the rate of anaphylaxis is 2.1 cases per million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 6.2 cases per million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Anaphylaxis after vaccination is considered a rare event.

If you have a history of anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reaction, prepare by reading the CDC’s guidelines on who shouldn’t receive the vaccine. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) recommends that people with a history of anaphylaxis, mast cell disease, or concerns about receiving the vaccines should schedule a visit with an experienced allergist or immunologist before getting vaccinated.

Your daily allergy medication routine shouldn’t change. According to ACAAI, you should take your routine medicines on vaccination day, and if you don’t normally take daily allergy medication, the CDC doesn’t recommend pre-medicating before getting the vaccine. There isn’t any research suggesting that over-the-counter or prescription allergy medication will interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Know that the CDC has published guidance for vaccine providers on how to monitor people who receive the vaccine. It recommends that people with “a history of an immediate allergic reaction of any severity to a vaccine or injectable therapy and persons with a history of anaphylaxis due to any cause” should be monitored for 30 minutes after getting the vaccine (all other people are monitored for 15). Providers have been directed to have a number of treatments on hand in case of anaphylaxis, including an epinephrine-prefilled syringe or autoinjector (EpiPen), H1 and H2 antihistamines, and a bronchodilator.

Caring for yourself and others after vaccination

While flu-like symptoms should go away after a few days, you should contact your doctor if they don’t resolve or if they are worrying. If you’ve just received your first dose, remember to schedule your second dose (when available).

One of the most important things to prepare for is to continue social distancing and wearing a mask after getting vaccinated. As I wrote previously on the Coronavirus Blog, doing so is crucial to keeping yourself and people around you safe until more people are vaccinated. This will help prevent the spread of variants and achieve vaccine-mediated herd immunity, at least for now.

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.