Can I take pain relievers before or after the COVID-19 vaccine?
Do not take them before an injection to try to prevent symptoms, but if your doctor agrees, you can use them afterward if necessary.
The concern about pain relievers is that they might slow down the immune system response that a vaccine is intended to stimulate. Vaccines work by tricking the body into thinking it has a virus and building a defense against it. That can cause temporary arm pain, fever, muscle aches, or other symptoms of inflammation, signs that the vaccine is doing its job.
Some research suggests that certain pain relievers, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and other brands), might decrease the immune system response. A study in mice suggests that these drugs could reduce the production of antibodies, which prevent the virus from infecting cells.
Other research has found that pain relievers can dampen the response to some childhood vaccines, which is why many pediatricians recommend that parents avoid giving children the medications before the injection and only if necessary afterward, said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated their guide to recommend against pain relievers before a COVID-19 injection. It says they can be taken afterwards for symptoms if you don’t have other medical conditions that preclude their use, but you should talk to your doctor.
If you’re already taking one of those drugs for a health problem, you shouldn’t stop before you get the vaccine, at least not without first checking with your doctor, said Jonathan Watanabe, a pharmacist at the University of California, Irvine.
If you’re looking to relieve symptoms after the injection, he added, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is better because it works differently from other pain relievers.
“If you have a reaction afterward and need something, take acetaminophen,” Schaffner agreed. He added that the immune response generated by the vaccines is strong enough that any buffering effects from the painkillers are mild and will not undermine the injections.
The CDC offers other tips, such as placing a cool, damp cloth over the injection site and exercising that arm. For fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly. Call your doctor if the redness or tenderness in your arm increases after a day or if the side effects don’t go away after a few days, the CDC says.
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