What It Really Feels Like To Get A COVID Booster Shot

Worried about side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine booster? Here's what to expect, according to people who got theirs.
Side effects from the COVID vaccine booster run the gamut. Here's what seven different people experienced.
luza studios via Getty Images
Side effects from the COVID vaccine booster run the gamut. Here's what seven different people experienced.

When I got my COVID booster shot, I was fully anticipating the next day to be a wash. I had preemptively taken care of my to-do list and cleared the day so I could rest. But I never developed a single symptom, aside from the slightest bit of soreness at the injection site, and by the afternoon I decided I felt well enough to go on a run.

As I talked to friends and family members about their booster shots, I noticed their experiences ran the gamut. Many felt slightly off and took a nap. Some, like me, were completely unaffected, while others were completely wiped out for a day or two.

Over 26 million Americans have received a booster shot so far. The reactions people have reported after their boosters appear to be in line with what people felt after their second dose. The very vast majority of side effects — like chills, aches and pain — are no big deal. If anything, they’re a sign your immune system is revved up and doing what it needs to do to protect you from COVID-19.

Everyone’s going to respond a bit differently, likely due to their age, health and how their immune system responds to vaccines. Below, several people share the side effects they experiences when getting their shots.

‘It gave me comfort that my immune system was working ...’

Scott Jelinek, a 33-year-old pediatrician living in Philadelphia, has been seeing patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and wanted the highest level of protection possible to minimize his chances of getting sick and spreading the virus to others. Jelinek got his first Pfizer dose in December 2020 and was keeping an eye on studies showing that antibody levels wane with time.

Jelinek received his Pfizer booster dose at the end of September. He experienced no side effects the day he got the booster, but the next day his arm was a little sore, he had the chills and he was fairly fatigued. Those symptoms only lasted a day.

If anything, he was glad to have felt some mild effects after the jab.

“It gave me comfort that my immune system was working to create the antibodies necessary and it gave me a sense of reassurance that the booster was working,” Jelinek said.

‘A little warm and drained, as if a cold was coming on.’

Rebecca Hui, a 32-year-old mental health clinician, got her initial Moderna doses in January and February, and followed up with a Moderna booster in early November. She qualified for a booster due to the nature of her job, but also wanted to avoid passing COVID to older, at-risk family members whom she visits regularly.

She hadn’t experienced many side effects after her first two doses — just a sore arm and some slight fatigue after dose two — but developed stronger symptoms after the booster. Her side effects came on about nine hours after receiving the booster shot and persisted for about 12 hours. She said she felt a little warm and drained, as if a cold was coming on. But by morning, the symptoms had subsided.

‘I was planning to take a sick day ... but I forgot and it didn’t impact my day.’

Luis Gallego, a 41-year-old early childhood education specialist, didn’t experience any noticeable side effects, with the exception of a sore arm, after any of his shots. He received his first Pfizer doses in January and followed up with a Pfizer booster at a local pharmacy in late October. “I was planning to take a sick day just in case I would get anything, but I forgot and it didn’t impact my day,” Gallego said.

He chose to get a booster because he was eligible and didn’t want to test his luck — he has been fortunate enough to avoid COVID so far and didn’t want to risk it during his upcoming travels abroad. “I love traveling and I know that increases the chances of getting expose to variants — so the more protected I can be, the better,” Gallego said.

‘The lack of energy put me out. I was still glad I did it.’

Tina, a 69-year-old woman living in Florida, said there was no doubt in her mind she’d get a booster shot when she became eligible. She had been fully vaccinated with the Moderna shots by January and wanted to be well-protected ahead of the holidays this year. She felt wiped out after her initial doses and was prepared to potentially feel crummy after the booster, too.

She got the booster in the afternoon and around 9 p.m., she had a headache. During the two days that followed, she felt extremely fatigued and unwell and spent a good chunk of time in bed.

“The lack of energy put me out,” she said, noting that her energy levels were restored after about two and a half days. “I was still glad I did it. Knowing what the symptoms were from — it didn’t faze me in the least. I didn’t feel good, but I had no regrets.”

“In comparison to what the body aches feel like when you’re actually sick, it’s so minor.”

‘I had zero side effects aside from some mild shoulder pain.’

Katie Hemcher, a 33-year-old woman who recently had a baby, received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot in March. After her J&J shot, she had pretty significant side effects that lasted about 12 hours — fatigue, body pain, chills, a fever — but a big caveat is that she was in the first trimester of pregnancy and was already feeling pretty depleted to begin with.

When Hemcher learned that all adults who received the J&J shot were eligible for a booster, she scheduled an appointment for a Pfizer shot with the hope of passing more antibodies to her daughter, who she is currently breastfeeding.

“I had zero side effects aside from some mild shoulder pain where I received the vaccine,” Hemcher said of her booster shot.

‘Within 24 hours, I was back to normal.’

Erin, a 40-year-old health care worker living in Illinois, got pretty sick with COVID-19 last year. After recovering, she developed many debilitating long-haul symptoms including extreme fatigue, headaches and brain fog. Erin, who wished to use only her first name for privacy, was fully vaccinated by late January 2021 and started working with a post-COVID clinic to manage her long COVID symptoms, many of which improved with medications by summertime.

Erin was hesitant to get a booster at first, given all of the long-haul symptoms she dealt with, but her doctor recommended that she get it — plus, she didn’t want to battle COVID again without the most protection. So she scheduled her booster for early November.

“I did get fatigued hours later and woke up with a headache, but eventually, within 24 hours, I was back to normal,” she said.

‘A sore armpit is so worth it.’

Katie, a 29-year-old woman living in Pennsylvania who asked to withhold her last name for privacy, said she has been extremely cautious throughout the pandemic and wanted a booster shot to get some additional protection. After her first Moderna dose, she experienced injection site pain; the second dose brought on heavy injection site pain, a headache, mild body aches and a very low-grade fever.

About 24 hours after her Moderna booster shot, which she got last week, she developed mild body aches and some swelling in the lymph nodes under her armpit. That armpit pain intensified the next day but quickly declined on the third day.

“In comparison to what the body aches feel like when you’re actually sick, it’s so minor,” Katie said. “A sore armpit is so worth it.”

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