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  • Writer's pictureDr Pittman

COVID Vaccinations: The first 6 weeks. What we've learned and how to prepare when it is YOUR turn.

When it comes to worries about rare, side effects of a new vaccine , experts “breathe a sigh of relief” after the first 3 million doses. Six weeks and 22 million doses into the COVID 19 vaccination effort the good news is there have been very few serious adverse reactions in days to weeks after vaccination. Deaths shortly after vaccination have been reported but are in line with expected rates for similar populations that have not been vaccinated. These are most likely coincidence and so far there is no evidence vaccines have directly caused any deaths. Check this link to learn more.

Common side effects of the vaccines are symptoms of your body’s immune response. They are usually more severe in younger people, people who have had similar reactions to other immunizations, and those getting their second dose. They are most often mild (about 5% are serious enough to keep people from doing their usual activities) and last 1-2 days. They include:

o Soreness, redness, and/or swelling at the site of the shot.

o Body aches, fatigue, headache. My teeth even hurt!

o Fever, usually low grade but can be 103 or greater.

o Shaking chills, sweats.

o Nausea and rarely vomiting and diarrhea.

o Swollen glands

The most common serious problem is anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction that occurs minutes to hours after administration. Vaccination sites are all prepared to treat anaphylaxis with epinephrine and antihistamines. As of January 19, 2021 there have been 15 cases of anaphylaxis with the Moderna vaccine and 45 with the Pfizer. No one has died. We think people are reacting to components of the lipid (fat) coating that protects the mRNA. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) and related compounds are the most likely culprits.

What to do when it is your turn:

Have a conversation with your health professional, especially if you have an active ongoing medical condition. For most people, the risk of problems from the vaccine is far less than that of natural COVID disease. It is normal to be anxious about a taking new vaccine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make the best decision for your health.

If you have experienced severe allergic reactions to any injected drugs get your vaccination at a health care facility close to an Emergency Department. Stay in the observation area at least 30 minutes (15 is standard). If you have been prescribed an Epi-pen for allergic reactions make sure it is not expired. Carry it with you the day of your shot. Anaphylactic reactions occurred from 2-150 minutes after vaccination. Don’t bother to take diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or other antihistamines before the shot. While we treat anaphylaxis with these drugs, they do not prevent reactions. If you have anaphylaxis with your first shot do not get the second dose. If you have a choice, vaccinate with Moderna vaccine (2 cases /million) rather than Pfizer (6 cases/million). If you have a known allergy to polyethylene glycol wait for a vaccine that does not contain it.

· How to prepare for your vaccination appointment:

  • Get some exercise and a good night’s sleep the day before. Your immune system works best when you are healthy, rested, and not stressed.

  • We do not recommend taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) before your shot (they have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines). Do have them around to treat symptoms afterwards. You may also want to have something available for nausea. (This symptom took me by surprise!)

  • Make sure your plans for a couple of days after your shot are flexible and low key in case you have severe side effects. This is more likely to be after the second dose (voice of experience). Some people I’ve talked to are worried that if they have no symptoms the vaccine hasn’t worked. Not the case! Some folks have immune systems that can work just fine in the background without making a big deal out of it.

  • If possible, schedule your second dose when you get your first. 21 days later for Pfizer, 28 days for Moderna. You must get the same vaccine for both doses. Don’t skip the booster. You are not fully immunized rate until 7-10 days after the second shot.

  • Continue masking, social distancing, and hand washing. While we know the vaccine prevents COVID 19 disease with 95% effectiveness, we are not sure if it prevents infection without symptoms. If it doesn’t, those of us who are vaccinated could still catch and transmit the virus to others. There are studies underway to help figure this out.

Next up COVID, Vaccines, and Autoimmunity and what about all these variants?

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