Cut Through The Chatter: Side effects of the vaccine

Mar 19, 2021

Updated August 2021

Cut Through The Chatter is a special Living Smart series for those who may be hesitant to take or have questions about the COVID vaccine - especially those in the African-American and Latino communities who have been disproportionately affected by the disease or have a mistrust of vaccines. We want to share some facts to address those common concerns. Both physicians interviewed for this article have been fully vaccinated.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine: It’s safe and proven effective.

Here’s something you may also want to know: Yes, you may experience short-term side effects following your shot.

“Unfortunately, short-term side effects are very common in most vaccines,” says Dr. Lorraine McRae, primary care physician at St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care on Eisenhower. Dr. Lorraine McRae

But we don’t want that to be the reason why you don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s take a look further.

After COVID-19 vaccination, you may have some side effects. These are normal signs that your body is building immunity to the virus. Side effects following the vaccine will vary from person to person. Some people may have no symptoms. Others may experience mild symptoms, which usually go away within a couple of days. Those could include:

  • Injection site soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches or headache

“That’s not unique to vaccines at all,” Dr. McRae adds. “Most people get through them just fine. It might mean a day or two not feeling well and using an acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) does help you get through that.”

“So yes, in the short run, there could be some discomfort. It’s very much worth it for the benefit that it gives us.”

That’s because we know the effects of actually getting the COVID-19 virus, and for many people, those symptoms last a lot longer than a couple of days. COVID-19 has killed more than 600,000 people in the United States alone. Thousands have spent days, weeks, even months on a ventilator in ICU rooms. Others have experienced milder symptoms, but the fatigue, shortness of breath, rash, body aches made them miserable for a lot longer than a couple of days.

“I will say that since this pandemic has broken out, as a physician, this is some of the hardest times I’ve ever experienced, watching so many people die, watching people that we really cannot help succumb to this virus,” says Dr. Akinniran Abisogun, cardiologist with St. Joseph’s/Candler Physician Network – SouthCoast Cardiology. “A little soreness for one day versus having a tube down your throat, on multiple medications to keep your blood pressure up, there’s no comparison.” Dr. Akinniran Abisogun

“I would definitely say the side effects of the vaccination, which are minimal, are much better than the disease.”

Tracking the vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and Food & Drug Administration continuously monitor vaccinations after they’ve been given with a tracking system called Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS accepts reports of any adverse event following vaccination, even if it is not clear the vaccine caused the problem. The CDC and FDA further investigate these reports.

As of Aug. 26, 2021, more than 200 million people in the U.S. received at least one dose of the a COVID-19 vaccine. Some folks may experience some short-term side effects, as mentioned above, while others none. The risk of severe side effects, such as anaphylaxis, is extremely rare. If it were to happen, medicines are available to immediately and effective treat the reaction. That's why you asked to stay onsite for around 15 minutes after you get your first vaccine.

“This is a vaccination that has been studied very rigorously,” Dr. Abisogun says. “There are well-founded reasons for hesitancy and mistrust of the medical community for some people, and especially in the African-American community, but what we have here is an opportunity as a community to hopefully take advantage of a medical therapy that is proven effective and has really helped minimize the spread of the virus and minimize the effects on populations. The African-American community and others can really benefit from that.”

Long-term side effects

Those hesitant to get the vaccine have expressed concern about the long-term side effects of the vaccine. If you’re thinking microchip tracking, that’s definitely a myth. But it’s fair to say that the long-term side effects of the vaccine – regarding your health – are not known.

“Unfortunately, the long-term side effects are not yet known, but the long-term side effects from having COVID-19 also are not known,” Dr. McRae says. “What we do know is that over 500,000 people have died from this virus. Countless others have been hospitalized with it, so we know what the severity of the coronavirus can cost. I still feel it’s worth it to take the vaccine to try to prevent that.”

Dr. Abisogun agrees. He’s seen patients from their 30s to 80s get infected with COVID. He’s seen people infected with the virus have no or very mild symptoms. However, he’s also seen people develop severe blood clotting disorders in their brains, lungs or arteries that lead to the heart. He’s also seen people die.

“In my years of being a physician, I have never seen this much death. The amount of death that I’ve seen in the hospital has really rocked me,” he says. “I see vaccination as a way for us to hopefully return to normalcy where we can hopefully meet with our loved ones, meet with our friends and most importantly, where we can protect the more vulnerable in our community that may succumb to this virus if they don’t have the necessary protection from the spread.”

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