Whether you've read about it in the news or heard personal accounts from friends and family, COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects – but there are ways to minimize symptoms.
Dr. Michael Daignault, an emergency physician in Los Angeles, tells USA TODAY that common post-vaccine symptoms shouldn't make people wary of getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
"The side effects of the vaccine are 100 times better than getting COVID itself," he said. "I've seen firsthand what COVID does to people and does to their body – having symptoms for a few hours or even a day is much more agreeable."
He added having a vaccine reaction is actually a good sign. "It means your immune system is working," he explained.
If you're looking to lessen some of the potential side effects, however, here's how to treat some common symptoms:
One area that may react to the vaccine is the arm where you received the shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists injection site pain and swelling as normal side effects. Here are some things you can do:
Pain relievers: Though the CDC and the World Health Organization recommend against the preventive use of over-the-counter pain relief medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, they do allow them if symptoms develop after the shot. Daignault recommends checking with your doctor first, however, if you're already taking other medications.
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Cool it down: "Ice is a great treatment for swelling – plus for pain, and it's often overlooked but it's something we all have and it doesn't interact with any medications you have already," Daignault said. Out of ice? The CDC says you can use a "clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area" as well.
Epsom salt baths: "If it's really sore or if you have general body aches," Daignault said, "just take 2 cups of Epsom salt, put it in some relatively warm water and soak in there for 20 minutes, finish with a cold shower and get into bed."
Exercise your arm: "The muscle ache comes from localized inflammation," Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and California State Senator who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, explained to USA TODAY. "So moving the arm around can sometimes make it feel better."
You may also experience symptoms including fever, chills, tiredness and headaches.
Rest up: "I would say rest as much as you can," Daignault said, before advising not to over-do it. "I'm also encouraging people to go about their daily activities... because you always want to maintain the best cardiovascular system as possible."
Drink fluids: The CDC recommends this as a way to "reduce discomfort from fever."
Dress lightly: The CDC also recommends this for fevers.
Pan said that if you feel like your reactions are "particularly severe" without relief or "prolonged" – lasting more than the typical few days – you should call your doctor.
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Pan also points out that "not everything that happens after you get a vaccine is necessarily due to the vaccine," meaning another illness could be causing more severe symptoms.
"So call you doctor... certainly if you feel like you need medical care," he said. "If you're short of breath, that shouldn't be from the vaccine. So don't think, 'Well, maybe that's just the vaccine.'"
CDC also recommends seeing your doctor if redness or pain at your injection site increases after 24 hours.
Daignault noted the "most severe" side effects people could experience from the vaccine are usually allergic reactions shortly after the shot. For that reason, he asks patients to wait in their car or at their testing center for about 15 to 30 minutes after the injection.
"Usually if you can make it through that without any severe symptoms, the chances of having any severe symptoms hours or days after that are very unlikely," he assured.
So, you got a vaccine! That means you're immediately and totally safe, right? Not quite.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses per patient to be as effective as possible. The first Pfizer-BioNTech dose is more than 50% effective in preventing COVID-19, and the second dose increases that protection to about 95%.
It can also take weeks for a person’s body to build up immunity after getting vaccinated, the CDC said.
Since the vaccine is neither 100% nor immediately effective, public health measures – such as avoiding crowds, physical distancing and wearing masks – helps reduce the risk of contracting all strains of the coronavirus, as well as other respiratory diseases.
Daignault explained, "It's only until we get that herd immunity... that we may be able to return to a little bit of normalcy... but we're not there yet."
Pan echoed that "even after you've gotten the vaccine, you should still continue to wear your mask (and) try to keep your physical distancing to try to minimize your exposure."