June 2021

What to Expect When Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

You’ve probably had a flu shot before. But getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a brand-new experience for all of us. Here’s how to prepare for this exciting step toward reclaiming a more normal life.

Should you take medicine before getting your shot?

The CDC says you should not take over-the-counter (OTC) medicines before your shot to prevent side effects. That includes aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and antihistamines.

But in most cases, you should keep taking your normal medicines for treating health conditions. If you have questions, talk with your healthcare provider.

What will happen during the appointment?

Check your confirmation email to find out what you need to bring, and arrive prepared. At your appointment, you will be given a fact sheet that tells you about the type of vaccine you’re receiving. Both you and your vaccine provider will wear a mask while you get the vaccine. 

After your shot, you will be asked to stay on-site for at least 15 minutes. Severe allergic reactions are rare, but this waiting period means help will be nearby if you need it.

You should leave with a vaccination card that notes which COVID-19 vaccine you received, when, and where. Put the card somewhere safe so that you don’t lose it. But don’t laminate the card; your provider may need to write on it again later.

What if you aren’t given a card? The CDC recommends asking your vaccination site or state health department how to get one.

What are the possible side effects?

You might feel a bit under the weather for a few days after getting vaccinated. That’s a sign your body is building up defenses against COVID-19.

Common side effects include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling in your arm where you got the shot

  • Tiredness

  • Headache

  • Muscle ache

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Nausea

To soothe a sore arm, apply a cool, wet washcloth to the area. To feel better with a fever, drink extra fluids and wear lightweight clothing. In addition, the CDC says it’s OK to take OTC medicine to ease discomfort after your shot.

What should you know about getting a second shot?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require 2 shots. The second shot is given about 3 weeks (Pfizer) or 4 weeks (Moderna) after the first one. Bring your vaccination card to your appointment, as well as anything that was required at your first visit.

Side effects may hit you a little harder this time around. But just like before, they should go away within a few days. And you’ll be left with the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done your part to protect yourself and help stop a pandemic.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.