By MARILYNN MARCHIONE | AP Chief Medical Writer
Q. Can I take pain relievers before or after the COVID-19 vaccine?
A. Do not take them before an injection to try to prevent a reaction to the vaccine. If your doctor agrees, it’s okay to use them later if necessary.
The concern about prophylactic 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.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated their guidance to recommend not using pain relievers before a COVID-19 injection. It says they can be taken afterward 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.
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.