10 People Share What Got Them Through Their Vaccine Side Effects

#4: Plan not to do much.

by JR Thorpe
A woman lies on a bed in exhaustion. COVID vaccines can cause side effects including fatigue, fever,...
Ol'ga Efimova / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

With appointments for a COVID vaccine becoming the hottest tickets of 2021, getting the shot can feel like a lottery win in your arm. Until you start getting fevers, chills, and waves of crushing fatigue, of course. Experts say side effects of the COVID vaccines are to be expected, and aren’t anything to worry about; they’re signs that your immune system is kicking into gear, and learning how to fight COVID. But it can still be an exhausting two to three days. That’s why people are trading tips on how to deal with their COVID vaccine side effects — like, the ones that actually helped them.

If you manage to escape side effects entirely, that doesn’t mean your shot isn’t working. None of the COVID vaccines currently being used in the U.S. cause universal adverse effects, according to the trial data published by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), meaning that they don’t cause side effects in everybody. Nobody knows why some people get side effects and others sail through; it may be something to do with immune systems, or just the luck of the draw. If you’ve had COVID before, you may be more vulnerable to aches and pains after a Pfizer vaccination, according to the ZOE COVID Symptom Study, but that’s not confirmed by wider studies yet.

If you’re wondering how to get through those slightly difficult 24 to 48 hours post shot, here are 10 women and non-binary people sharing their best tips.


Take Tylenol Post-COVID Vaccine

“The biggest tip I can give is Tylenol,” Jessi, 22, tells Bustle. “While there's some debate out there about whether taking Tylenol before the vaccine dampens the efficacy of the shot, my doctor confirmed that taking Tylenol if you develop side effects after the vaccine is completely safe.” Pre-medicating with NSAIDs like Tylenol is currently not advised by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), just in case it makes the vaccine less effective — but after the shot happens and you start to feel crummy, go for your life.


Pick Your Arm For Your Shot Wisely

You’ll be given a choice at your appointment: getting your shot in your dominant arm or your non-dominant arm. Think carefully about it. “Get vaccinated in your non-dominant arm, because your arm may be sore for a few days with both sets of shots,” Anne Marie, 44, advises Bustle. But there are other considerations, too. “My big tip is if you're a side sleeper, get the shot on the other side, even if it's your dominant side,” Kate, 39, tells Bustle. “My arm was so sore, I couldn't get comfortable, and so I was horrid the next two or three days.”


Schedule Time Off Post-Vaccine

“My number one tip is to prepare for the side effects,” Afoma, 25, tells Bustle. “You may be one of the lucky ones, but most people will have some degree of discomfort, so it really helped to take the shot knowing that I would be a bit off for a couple of days afterward.” Many people told Bustle they moved their work schedules around to give them time to recover. “Just plan on being sick the next day; if you're not, then it's a bonus,” Jenna, 28, says.


... And Plan Not To Do Much

The best tips I have there are to clear your work schedule the day after, plan for your family to have take out for meals, and expect to be in bed,” Kate says. This may not be the kind of day off where you can do laundry and catch up on chores. “I watched a lot of Netflix after my second shot,” Megan, 39, tells Bustle. “I definitely took advantage of my favorite take-out restaurant and made sure to ask my family for help in the next couple of days while the fatigue was still around.”


Expect Side Effects To Be Different With Your Second COVID Vaccine Dose

Sailed through your first Pfizer or Moderna shot, or only experienced mild side effects? There’s a strong chance things will be worse when you get your second shot, according to the data Pfizer and Moderna shared with the FDA. “After my first shot, I was a little sore and tired, but it didn't affect me too much,” Megan says. “My second shot was a whole different story. I had a low-grade fever, body aches, and a headache for about 24 hours, and a lot of fatigue that lasted into the following day.”

You may also experience different reactions altogether. “I had the Pfizer vaccine, and had slightly different side effects for each shot — a very sore arm for the first shot, and more exhaustion and minor chills for the second,” Heather, 32, says.


Make Sure You Have Appropriate Pain Remedies

Generally speaking, acetaminophen-based painkillers are being recommended by doctors and the CDC to deal with post-vaccine symptoms. This is because acetaminophen isn’t an anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is key to your immune response, though experts say any potential effect of taking an anti-inflammatory is probably negligible. “Drink lots of water and alternate between Motrin and Tylenol in order to reduce your temperature if you have one,” Anne Marie, 44, says.

Kelsey, 35, tells Bustle that she and her husband had their Johnson & Johnson vaccines on the same day. She popped an Advil when she noticed some aches and then developed fevers and chills. “I feel like taking pain relief earlier may have helped me stave off worse pain overall,” she says. Her husband, meanwhile, waited to take any pain relief until well into his 102.4 degree fever the next day. “He suffered all day long,” she says.

If that’s not an option for you, though, prepare beforehand. “I'm allergic to both acetaminophen and ibuprofen,” Karina, 23, says. When she ended up with a fever post-vaccine, she couldn’t use either medicine to cool her body temperature. “I spoke with the pharmacist and she told me to use environmental factors to cool myself down. I used my handheld shower head to soak my scalp, but I refused to soak my butt-length hair because wet hair is the last thing I wanted to deal with.”


Exercise Sparingly After Your COVID Vaccine

Your arm may hurt like hell, but some mild movement could help relieve it. “I exercised my arm, which helped to relieve the soreness and pain,” Anne Marie says. Heather, who has the neuroskeletal disease spinal muscular atrophy, tells Bustle that she stretched her arm out gently multiple times for the 24 hours following the shot, which helped soothe the soreness.


Stay Hydrated & Fed

Hydration can help COVID vaccine side effects lessen sooner, so keep that water bottle nearby. “Hot tea and Advil were life savers,” Kate says. Laura, 34, drank an electrolyte drink designed for rehydration to help her through the 48 hours post-vaccine. Afoma adds that you should also remember to eat, particularly if you’re taking painkillers that are uncomfortable on an empty stomach, like ibuprofen.


Just Hold On

This too shall pass. “It passes just as fast as it comes on, within 24 to 48 hours,” Kate says. And the side effects themselves can even feel like a (painful, exhausting) celebration. “I comforted myself by knowing that the side effects that I was experiencing meant that the vaccine was working,” Heather says. “After going almost nowhere for almost a year, this really raised my spirits!”