At this point, we’ve probably all heard horror stories from people who suffered from particularly harsh side effects after receiving their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who haven’t gotten the COVID vaccine may be nervous about side effects and wondering if medications like Tylenol are safe to make the experience as painless as possible.
The good news is that most over-the-counter painkillers are safe for treating any soreness, fever, muscle aches, or other related symptoms. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests talking with your doctor about taking any pain medications for vaccine side effects and advises against taking anything before your shot to prevent symptoms.
According to the Associated Press, research conducted in mice suggests that certain painkillers such as ibuprofen (including Advil, Motrin, and other brands) could potentially hinder the body’s immune system’s response to the vaccine if taken before the shot.
The mRNA coronavirus vaccines contain molecular instructions that deliver a small amount of genetic code to cells. That teaches the immune system to recognize the virus and subsequently mounts a defense against it. This is why people tend to have more adverse reactions after the second shot when the immune system has been trained to seek out and destroy the virus.
Pain medication taken before the shot might lower the production of antibodies, which may initially prevent the virus from infecting cells. Though unpleasant, the side effects from the vaccine also demonstrate that it’s working.
One caveat is that if you’re already taking over-the-counter pain medications for an unrelated health condition, you shouldn’t stop without consulting with your doctor.
Jonathan Watanabe, a pharmacist at the University of California, Irvine, told the Associated Press that Tylenol (or other brands of acetaminophen) is better to take after getting the COVID vaccine because it works differently than some other painkillers. “If you have a reaction afterward and need something, take some acetaminophen,” Schaffner said, adding that the body’s immune response should be strong enough after getting the vaccine that painkillers won’t weaken it.
Alternately, the CDC recommends applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area where you get your shot to reduce any pain and discomfort—or to use or exercise the arm. The agency also suggests drinking plenty of fluids and dressing in light clothes to minimize discomfort from fever. However, if the side effects fail to dissipate or even get worse after a day or so, you should contact your doctor immediately
Read more on the coronavirus vaccines:
- Can your work require you to get a COVID vaccine?
- When will COVID-19 vaccines get full FDA approval? And what will that mean?
- How to convince someone to get vaccinated
- Can the COVID vaccine alter your DNA?
- Can the COVID vaccine give you herpes?
- Will you need a COVID-19 booster shot? And an annual vaccine?
- If you got the COVID vaccine but didn’t experience any side effects, is it still working?
- Which COVID vaccine is the best?
- How long will the COVID-19 vaccines keep you safe from the coronavirus?
- Can you drink alcohol after getting the coronavirus vaccine?