Is the Second Dose Bad? If I Feel OK, Is It Working? Can I Take Tylenol?

The most common questions about vaccination side effects, answered.


By Tara Parker-Pope

Every day nearly three million people in the United States are getting the Covid-19 vaccine. And every new jab prompts new questions about what to expect after vaccination.

Last week I asked readers to send me their questions about vaccinations. Here are some answers.

Q: I’ve heard the Covid vaccine side effects, especially after the second dose, can be really bad. Should I be worried?

Short-lived side effects like fatigue, headache, muscle aches and fever are more common after the second dose of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines, which each require two shots. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single shot.) Patients who experience unpleasant side effects after the second dose often describe feeling as if they have a bad flu and use phrases like “it flattened me” or “I was useless for two days.” During vaccine studies, patients were advised to schedule a few days off work after the second dose just in case they needed to spend a day or two in bed.

Data collected from v-safe, the app everyone is encouraged to use to track side effects after vaccination, also show an increase in reported side effects after the second dose. For instance, about 29 percent of people reported fatigue after the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, but that jumped to 50 percent after the second dose. Muscle pain rose from 17 percent after the first shot to 42 percent after the second. While only about 7 percent of people got chills and fever after the first dose, that increased to about 26 percent after the second dose.

The New York Times interviewed several dozen of the newly vaccinated in the days afterward. They recounted a wide spectrum of responses, from no reaction at all to symptoms like uncontrolled shivering and “brain fog.” While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a sign that your own immune system is mounting a potent response to the vaccine.

Q: Is it true that women are more likely to get worse side effects from the vaccine than men?

An analysis of safety data from the first 13.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses given to Americans found that side effects were more common in women. And while severe reactions to the Covid vaccine are rare, nearly all the cases of anaphylaxis, or life-threatening allergic reactions, occurred in women.

The finding that women are more likely to report and experience unpleasant side effects to the Covid vaccine is consistent with other vaccines as well. Women and girls can produce up to twice as many antibodies after receiving flu shots and vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella (M.M.R.) and hepatitis A and B. One study found that over nearly three decades, women accounted for 80 percent of all adult anaphylactic reactions to vaccines.

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