As the number of available doses of the COVID-19 vaccinations increases in the area, more of us are becoming eligible for that long-awaited shot (or two). Virginia Governor Ralph Northam recently announced that all Virginians age 16 and older will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting April 18, ahead of the May 1 nationwide goal set by President Biden. Over the last few months, products like Vacci-Prep have crept onto store shelves, claiming to boost your immune system with a dose of antioxidants, amino acids, probiotics, and vitamins. But do we really need them? If not what should we be doing to get ready for our vaccines and deal with the after-effects? Dr. Sunil Budhrani, CEO and chief medical officer of Innovation Health, a joint venture partnership between Aetna and Inova, shares his thoughts on how to prep and what to expect:
What should we be doing in the weeks leading up to our COVID-19 shot?
Make sure to live a healthy lifestyle in the days leading up to your appointment: Get a full night sleep of at least seven to eight hours; eat a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables rather than just bread, dairy, and meat; and be active. Additionally, be sure to eat a meal before you get the shot, especially if you have a history of fainting after a shot or feeling woozy around needles. The CDC also advises that you do not get a COVID-19 vaccine within two weeks of another vaccine, like the flu shot. Stay vigilant: wear masks, physically distance, minimize your contact with others, avoid indoor public spaces when possible, and if you think you might have COVID-19, get tested. Clearly establish a bubble and be smart about who you include, and avoid people who are engaging in high-risk behaviors.
Is it better to get the shot in your dominant or non-dominant arm and why?
Soreness and tenderness at the injection site are the most common side effects of the vaccine. When deciding which arm to get the shot in, consider if you sleep on your side and if so which one, and whether your work requires you to use one arm more than the other. Once you figure that out, get the shot in whichever one you rely on (or sleep on) less.
What should we do the day of and the days following our shot?
Treat the days of and following the vaccine as potential sick days in case of symptoms, and if feasible, consider scheduling your vaccine when you know you will have the next day off of work. Give your body the time it needs to react to the shot; allow yourself plenty of time to sleep, eat healthy, balanced meals, and stay well-hydrated. Regular light movement may help reduce soreness at the site of injection, but don’t plan any high-exertion activities or intense exercise for the days following. Do not plan to immediately see other people indoors and unmasked, as it takes approximately two to three weeks for the vaccine to reach full efficacy following the final dose.
Is a moderate amount of alcohol okay the day before, of, or day after the shot? Does it affect the vaccine’s efficacy?
Excessive alcohol consumption can dehydrate you and give you a hangover the following day. Those outcomes, coupled with any potential side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, could lead to a more uncomfortable day or two after the shot. My recommendation is to hold off on any alcohol until the shot has already been in your arm for a few days.
What is the preferred over-the-counter pain reliever to help with side effects like a sore arm and achiness, ibuprofen or acetaminophen?
It entirely depends on which symptoms you are experiencing and what you feel works better for your body. Generally, if you are experiencing a fever or other flu-like symptoms, acetaminophen is most people’s go-to; if muscle soreness at the injection site is your biggest issue, ibuprofen is typically better as its anti-inflammatory agents can help reduce the pain. If you experience a prolonged fever, reach out to your physician and see if you should take a COVID-19 test.
Why are side effects often greater after the second shot?
When people experience side effects from a vaccine, it’s the immune system reacting. The first shot is when your antibodies realize there is something new that they aren’t prepared for, and the second shot is your immune system firing on all cylinders, reacting and preparing to attack–that’s why some people feel feverish or experience flu-like symptoms in the wake of the second shot. Those symptoms are totally normal. They aren’t a sign that you have somehow contracted COVID-19, they’re a sign that your body is ready to protect you. However, symptoms should only last for a few days. If your side effects last longer than that, contact your doctor.
How soon after my vaccine am I fully protected?
You need to wait at least two weeks after your second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (if you’re getting Pfizer or Moderna) before it’s fully effective. That means you should continue to socially distance, wear a mask, frequently sanitize and wash your hands, and look out for others. The available vaccines show us the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic, but we have to follow the CDC’s guidance and ensure that our vaccine shots have become fully effective before we start going back to normal. In the meantime, keep your regular appointments and prioritize your health. The vaccine shot is a reminder that we are going back to normal soon, so it’s important to recommit to physical activity; a healthy, balanced diet; and a normal sleep schedule that you will be consistent with.
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