- Experts advise against taking over-the-counter painkillers before the coronavirus vaccine.
- After the vaccine, it's OK for most people to take a painkiller if necessary, CDC says.
- Keep your immune system strong before and after vaccination by limiting alcohol, getting sleep, and drinking water.
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After getting the coronavirus vaccine, it's common to experience mild side effects like soreness at the site of injection, muscle pain, headaches. Some proactive folks have sought to help prevent those discomforts by popping over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (sold in the US as Tylenol), before their appointment.
But experts are now warning against taking pain meds pre-vaccine, since it's unclear how they may interfere with the shot's efficacy. It's possible they dull it by tamping down the immune response that both trains the body to fight off the coronavirus and gives rise to side effects.
"There is some concern that taking Tylenol or NSAIDs prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine could impact the effectiveness and alter your body's ability to produce a sufficient antibody response to the vaccine," pharmacist Sonia Patel told me.
"There is still no definitive answer to this question and the general recommendation is to stay away prior to vaccine administration to produce a better immune response," she added.
If you already take a pain med regularly for an unrelated condition, don't stop doing so without a doctor's consult.
Taking an OTC painkiller after your shot is probably OK if your symptoms warrant it
After your vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends talking to your doctor before taking a pain reliever for discomfort. "You can take these medications to relieve post-vaccination side effects if you have no other medical reasons that prevent you from taking these medications normally," the organization says on its website.
Patel, who's also the chief pharmacist and co-founder of the free prescription delivery service Capsule, said she'd encourage people to take pain relievers after the vaccine if they have symptoms that warrant it, like a high-grade fever and body aches.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease specialist, said during a recent New York Press Club briefing that he wouldn't hesitate to take an OTC painkiller to soothe a sore arm post-vaccine. "I doubt if it's going to make a major impact" on the shot's effectiveness, he said, adding that there's a big difference between a strong prescription immunosuppressant and a mild over-the-counter painkiller.
If you can, however, try alternative ways to ease a sore arm like covering it with a cool, wet washcloth and keeping your arm active, the CDC advises. For a fever, drink plenty of liquids and dress lightly.
Call your doctor if soreness and redness get worse after 24 hours or other "worrying" side effects don't subside in a few days, the CDC says. Call 911 if you suspect you're having a severe allergic reaction after leaving the vaccination site.
"For the majority of people, side effects are mild to moderate and only last a day or two," Patel said.
Limiting alcohol before and after your vaccine can also help it work its best
The vaccine works by training your immune system to fight off invaders that look like the coronavirus, so it's in your best interest to receive it with a system that's in good shape. In other words, you want to put your best players in the game, not those on the injured list.
In addition to avoiding painkillers, which again may suppress that wanted immune response, experts recommend limiting alcohol before and after getting the jab. One BBC report found that just three glasses of Prosecco was enough to decrease immune function.
Other ways to support your immune system to both protect against the coronavirus and help the vaccine do its job include drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, managing stress, and eating a balanced diet.
While you can't boost your immune system overnight, following those practices for a few weeks can make a difference, Insider previously reported.