What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccine side effects and how to deal with them | Opinion

A Berks County school system employee gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, 3/15/21 (Commonwealth Media Services screen capture)

By Emily Drinks

The COVID-19 vaccinations rolled out in December of 2020. Since then, over 125 million people have received the vaccine, and about 160 million people have had at least one dose of a vaccine. In Pennsylvania alone, over four million people have received complete vaccinations.

Fortunately, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has distributed more than 500,000 of them across Pennsylvania. These vaccines are the best hope to ending COVID-19. There are still many people who need to get vaccinated, but we are on our way to herd immunity.

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Currently, three vaccines are in circulation — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. These vaccinations are safe and effective. However, some people have experienced a wide range of side effects, which is expected with most vaccines, whether for COVID-19 or another disease.

Common Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccination

Factors aside, there are some common side effects that most people may experience after receiving any of the coronavirus vaccines that are similar to flu-like symptoms. Know that not everyone will experience the side effects, though. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Injection site soreness, pain and swelling
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Fever or chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes

If you have any of these side effects, know that they are normal. They are merely indications that the vaccine is helping your body build protection against the disease. After receiving the injection, medical professionals recommend that you take a few days to rest or avoid making any big plans.

Age and Gender Contribute to Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccine

Understanding factors contributing to COVID-19 vaccine side effects, though, can help you worry less about your particular side effects. Depending on your age and sex, you may be at a higher risk for other side effects following the COVID-19 vaccination.

Age

Data has shown that the younger the person, the more likely they are to feel the vaccine’s side effects. Whether the reactions were local or systemic, the data holds true. Participants aged 60 or younger were more likely to report reactions following the vaccination.

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Younger people typically have a more robust immune system. When injected with the vaccine, the immune system has a more robust response. This is why younger people are likely to feel the side effects compared to older people.

Gender

Gender is another contributing factor to the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination. With the given data from various studies, women were more likely to have side effects from the vaccine than men. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) created a study, and over 70% of the reported side effects were from women.

The side effects included anaphylactic allergic reactions in addition to the common side effects of the vaccination. Like with younger people, women usually have a higher response in their immune system after receiving vaccines of any type.

Adverse Effects

After the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rolled out, six cases were reported of women between the ages of 18 and 48 who got a severe blood clot. The reactions occurred within one to two weeks following their injections.

This was a serious concern, so the Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused until further research. Since the reported cases, no others have reported this happening to other women or men. The risk of blood clots is extremely low, and the benefits of getting this vaccine outweigh the risks.

Easing the Side Effects

Generally, side effects go away after a couple of days. If you are experiencing side effects from the vaccine, there are a few ways to mitigate them. Talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter pain medications. Additionally, rest and ensure that you drink plenty of fluids.

If you have a cough or shortness of breath, call your doctor. Additionally, if the side effects aren’t going away or worsen, seek medical care and guidance.

Being Part of the Solution

Now, anyone aged 12 or older has access to the COVID-19 vaccines. UPMC distributes them throughout most of Pennsylvania. Find a center near you, or talk to your doctor about where you can receive the vaccine.

Emily Drinks is a digital content analyst for WebFX, a Harrisburg-based marketing and public relations firm. This piece was written in consultation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.