Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may obscure the effectiveness of the vaccine.
While these side effects are generally a minor nuisance for most people, some try to prevent them by taking common over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (eg Motrin, Advil) beforehand. However, experts said that these drugs may not only dull the pain, but they may obscure the vaccine so that it does not work fully.
“We do not recommend premedication with ibuprofen or Tylenol before COVID-19 vaccines due to lack of data on how it affects the vaccine-induced antibody responses,” Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Medical Center and a member of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, told ABC News.
The side effects of the vaccines are caused by activation of the immune system, which means that the immune system works and begins to build up immunity to COVID-19 – that’s what we want. These painkillers are anti-inflammatory drugs. They prevent parts of the immune system from functioning and slow down the immune response. There is a theory that taking these drugs before immunization can reduce their effectiveness.
A Duke University study found that children who took painkillers before receiving their childhood vaccines had fewer antibodies than those who did not take the medication, which could mean less protection. However, there were still protective antibody levels despite the blunting.
“You will always have an optimal response to your vaccine,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, ABC News. “We recommend that unless people respond significantly to the first dose they take theirs [pain killers]. “
“The vast majority of people have a bit of an evil arm,” Schaffner said, “but otherwise they feel pretty good.”
While experts recommend that you do not take over-the-counter painkillers before getting the vaccine, they say that you should continue to take them if you are already doing so for another medical condition. Schaffner warned that stopping these drugs can cause unintended problems and be more harmful than beneficial.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that after you get your shot, monitor for side effects. As painkillers and antipyretics are not meant to be used before symptoms appear, talk to your doctor before vaccination to decide if you should take over-the-counter painkillers after getting the shot.
Other, more natural ways to reduce pain and discomfort include: applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the injection site and moving or training the arm. And for fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.
“If fever, chills, headache after injection develop,” use painkillers to help with your symptoms, but not before they develop and report significant side effects to a doctor, Wildes said.
Sean Llewellyn, MD, Ph.D., is a family physician at the University of Colorado and a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.