What Not To Do When You Get A COVID-19 Vaccine

Coronavirus experts share the latest vaccination advice on ibuprofen, tattoos, alcohol, exercise and avoiding side effects.
Medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommendations to ensure your COVID-19 vaccination experience is the best it can be.
Lorado via Getty Images
Medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommendations to ensure your COVID-19 vaccination experience is the best it can be.

As of Monday, more than 28% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Maybe it’s your turn next. First: Congratulations on getting a shot! Preventing severe COVID-19 is what all of the approved vaccines do well.

Next: You may have questions. If you are about to get vaccinated, you may be wondering how to mitigate potential side effects or whether your daily routine needs to be adjusted. Can you exercise and drink alcohol after your shot? Would popping some ibuprofen be a good idea?

Of course, you should consult your personal physician if you have specific health concerns, but here’s general advice from medical experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to make your COVID-19 vaccine experience the best possible:

DON’T take over-the-counter medications right before your shot. But feel free to take them after, if needed.

The CDC says you shouldn’t take over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent side effects.

Pre-medicating is a small but finite concern, and the advice is “really just being boringly conservative,” said Thomas Russo, chief of the infectious disease division at the University at Buffalo in New York. “If someone happened to take one of those medications beforehand, they shouldn’t freak out. I’m sure they’re going to be fine, but [not having it beforehand is] the recommendation.”

This is because over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen are anti-inflammatories that may blunt your body’s response to the vaccine. “You don’t really want to take one before you have your vaccine, because that could interfere with the ability of that vaccine to give you the most robust response,” said Deborah Fuller, a microbiologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine who is working on coronavirus vaccines.

After your shot, these medications can be used to mitigate any side effects you may feel, such as aches or discomfort.

“Once you have the vaccine, it really only takes a few hours to actually trigger the initial cascade that’s going to be needed to induce the immune response,” Fuller said. “Once the train has left the station, so to speak, the vaccine is in your arm and it’s already signaled your body to start making an immune response, and you start feeling sore or whatever, then you can go ahead and take those anti-inflammatories.”

DON’T worry about drinking alcohol.

“I haven’t seen any recommendations or reasons why you wouldn’t be able to have a glass of wine or beer or whatever the evening after you have your vaccine,” Fuller said.

But if you’re experiencing post-shot side effects like a low-grade fever, know that alcohol won’t help. “Probably if you’re having systemic symptoms, it would be prudent to go ahead and pass on alcohol,” Russo said.

DON’T book a tattoo or piercing right after if you can help it.

The skin is your first barrier against pathogens, and it’s designed to trigger immune responses. Body modification like tattooing or piercing can stimulate an immune response that you might not want to experience in combination with an immune response from the vaccine, Fuller said.

“It really comes into the bucket of ‘It could, but we don’t know for sure,’” she said about whether a tattoo following a COVID-19 vaccine could trigger an adverse immune response.

“So just as a precaution, maybe [do] not schedule your tattooing appointment two weeks before or after your vaccinations,” she said.

DON’T book other vaccines around the same time if you can help it.

The CDC currently does not recommend getting a different vaccine, such as the flu shot, around the same time as you get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Given the lack of data on the safety and efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines administered simultaneously with other vaccines, the vaccine series should be administered alone with a minimum interval of 14 days before or after administration with any other vaccines,” the CDC website states.

If you are scheduling appointments for multiple types of vaccines, prioritize the COVID-19 shots first unless the other vaccine is an emergency, Fuller said. “I would say if you have an emergency vaccination, like, for example, you step on a nail and you’ve got to go get your tetanus shot, well, don’t wait for that,” she said.

DON’T stop taking necessary steroids, but consider spacing them out if they’re optional.

If you are already taking steroid medications because of a chronic condition, don’t suddenly change your medication in anticipation of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

“If you’re on these drugs, there’s a reason you’re on these drugs,” Russo said. “If you’re on any sort of therapy that you’re concerned may affect your vaccine response, that therapy is likely critical, though, for what it’s being used for. And before doing anything, you should reach out to a health care provider and discuss the medications you’re on, and the fact that you can be vaccinated, and if anything should be changed or not.”

But if you are planning to take steroids for back pain, for example, and you have a choice of when you start taking them, consider timing it for two weeks before or after your vaccine because steroids interact with your immune system, Fuller said.

“That two-week window is when the initial response to the vaccine is going to hit its threshold, so if you get something else like a steroid shot, or another vaccine, or whatever, that’s a safe window where you’re not going to have interference with one another,” Fuller said.

DON’T push yourself to exercise after if you’re not up to it.

“Exercise should be fine. Exercise is actually a good leveler of your immune system, it balances and it regulates it,” Fuller said.

But of course, don’t feel the need to push through if you don’t feel well.

“Listen to your body in terms of how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling great, go for it,” Russo said. And if you’re feeling unwell after the vaccine, “you might want to take the day off,” he said.

DON’T forget to hydrate afterward, especially if you have flu-like symptoms.

If you want to help your body process any COVID-19 vaccine immune response, keep drinking water.

“Hydration is important for your immune system’s functions, so that will help your body develop a better response to the vaccine,” Fuller said.

Make sure you’re well-hydrated, because if you do get a low-grade fever after your vaccine, Russo said, you’re more likely to sweat and lose water volume, too.

DON’T get dermal fillers around the same time.

The CDC notes that people who have dermal fillers might experience swelling at or near the site of their filler injection following a dose of either Pfizer or Moderna, the vaccines based on mRNA.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get the vaccine if you have a history of dermal fillers, though.

“COVID-19 vaccines can be administered to people who have received injectable dermal fillers who have no contraindications or precautions for vaccination,” the CDC said in its guidance. “However, these people should be advised to contact their healthcare provider for evaluation if they experience swelling at or near a dermal filler site following vaccination.“

DON’T wear clothes that make it hard to access your upper arm.

If you want to make your vaccination as smooth as possible, think about what you’ll wear. You typically have a choice of which arm will receive the shot, so make sure that upper arm is easily accessible to your vaccine administrator.

“You’ve got to think about how you’re going to get your arm nicely exposed out there with minimal contact and minimal manipulation,” Fuller said, suggesting wearing something like a short-sleeve shirt or a tank top underneath a sweater.

DON’T forget to take a backup photo of your vaccine card and DON’T miss your window to get your card laminated for free.

The CDC recommends keeping your vaccination card, so why not add one more layer of protection while you have the chance and get the card laminated for free?

“Having that thing so it’s not all tattered or whatnot ― I would totally get mine laminated,” Fuller said. “Plus, it’s a great souvenir.”

After you complete your cycle of shots, you can get your vaccine card laminated for free at Staples, Office Depot or OfficeMax. The Office Depot and OfficeMax offer is available through July 25, according to Office Depot, and the Staples offer reportedly ends May 1.

Even if you don’t choose to laminate your card, you ought to follow the CDC’s recommendation and take a picture as a backup.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.

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