Updated April 15, 2021
Update: On April 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement recommending a pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine out of caution as they investigate reported cases of Americans who developed a rare and serious blood clot after receiving the J&J vaccine. Currently, these blood clots appear to be rare. The pause will allow federal health officials to investigate the cases and make further recommendations.
At UPMC, we are committed to the safety of our communities in our vaccination efforts. We are following federal guidance in the distribution of the J&J vaccine. We are pausing our distribution of the J&J vaccine pending the CDC investigation.
If you or a loved one received the J&J vaccine, do not panic. The reported adverse effects are extremely rare given the number of J&J vaccines distributed. Call your doctor if you experience side effects related to blood clots, including severe headache, arm or leg swelling, and/or shortness of breath. You do not have to start any medicines like aspirin to thwart blood clots.
Three COVID-19 vaccines have received emergency use authorization from the FDA: Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech. Federal and state officials are distributing the vaccines nationwide in phases.
Data show the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and millions of Americans have already received the vaccines.
If you’ve scheduled an appointment to get vaccinated, you may be wondering what to expect after you receive your shot. No matter which manufacturer produced the vaccine you receive, the potential side effects are similar.
What Are the Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Many people report having only mild side effects after a COVID-19 vaccination; some people have no side effects at all.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common side effects of getting the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to those of getting any immunization.
On the arm where you got your shot, you might have:
Throughout your body over the next few hours or days, you might have:
- Tiredness or fatigue
In a small number of cases, people have reported that they developed a rash a few days or weeks after the first dose.
A red, itchy, swollen, or painful rash that appears on the arm where you received the shot is called “COVID arm.” Even if you develop COVID arm, the CDC recommends you should still get the second shot when you’re due. Tell your vaccine provider that you got COVID arm after the first dose. Your provider may recommend that you get the second dose in your other arm.
The CDC does not know whether people who experience COVID arm after the first dose will have a similar reaction after the second dose. However, available evidence suggests that having this type of reaction after the first dose does not increase your risk of having a severe allergic reaction after the second dose.
On April 13, 2021, the CDC and FDA recommended a pause in the J&J vaccine distribution as they investigate reports of Americans who developed a rare, serious blood clot after receiving the J&J vaccine. This adverse side effect appears to be extremely rare.
Do not panic if you or a loved one received the J&J vaccine. These adverse effects appear to be very rare given the number of doses distributed. Call your doctor if you experience symptoms related to blood clots, including severe headache, arm or leg swelling, and/or shortness of breath.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have not been linked to this adverse effect.
“Most people, regardless of the vaccine they receive, should not expect severe side effects like this,” says Donald Yealy, MD, chief medical officer, UPMC. “It’s exceptionally rare.”
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Why Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Cause Side Effects?
Soreness in the muscle around the spot where the needle pierced your skin is normal, as is a feeling of tiredness or body aches. These side effects are the result of inflammation caused by your immune system gearing up in reaction to the vaccine. It is helping your body build protection against COVID-19.
“The side effects are from stimulating the immune system,” says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director, Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology, UPMC. “There are some expected side effects, but the large trial data we currently have that was reviewed by the FDA and us shows it’s very safe.”
Some people report temporary swelling of the lymph nodes in their armpits after receiving the vaccine.
Although these side effects may limit your activities for a short time, they should go away in a few days.
What Should I Do if I Experience Side Effects?
If you experience soreness or pain at the site of your shot:
- Apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area
- Use or exercise your arm
To reduce discomfort from fever:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Dress lightly
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Can I Take Ibuprofen for COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects?
Talk to your vaccine provider about taking over-the-counter medicines — ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or antihistamines— if you have discomfort after your shot. The CDC says that you may take these medicines if you have no other medical reason that would prevent you from taking them normally.
The CDC does not recommend taking these medicines before your vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent side effects. It is not known whether these medicines affect how well the vaccine works.
When Should I Call My Doctor if I’m Having Side Effects?
In most cases, discomfort from fever or pain after the vaccine is normal. Contact your primary care provider if:
- Redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours
- Your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days
- You develop COVID arm. Your primary care provider may recommend an antihistamine to relieve the itch and soothe the rash
If you get a COVID-19 vaccine and think you might be having a severe allergic reaction after you leave the vaccination site, seek immediate medical care by calling 911. Severe allergic reactions almost always occur within the first 30 minutes to four hours after receiving the vaccine. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines and rare severe allergic reactions to them.
Call your doctor if you received the J&J vaccine and experience symptoms related to blood clots, including severe headache, arm or leg swelling, and/or difficulty breathing.
Should I Still Get My Second Shot if I Have Side Effects From the First Dose?
Don’t be tempted to skip the second shot of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to avoid side effects. If you don’t get the second dose, there is a risk that you have only short-term protection from COVID-19 and may not develop long-term protection.
UPMC’s goal is to provide COVID-19 vaccines to as many people as possible and to ensure that the limited supplies of vaccine have the greatest impact. Learn more about how UPMC is distributing the vaccine or find out how you can register for a vaccine at UPMC.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.