What to know after getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Woman receives COVID-19 vaccine from healthcare worker

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting in June 2021 that more than 311 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.S. alone, public health experts say they’re cautiously optimistic about finally seeing the end of this pandemic.

“We all want to get back to normal, and vaccinations will help us get there. As healthcare professionals, we are at a critical juncture where we need to keep encouraging vaccination – as it is lifesaving,” said Dr. Kenneth Sands, chief epidemiologist at HCA Healthcare. “Nearly 42% of the American population now is vaccinated, and for those who have questions, we must continue proactively working to answer them with science-driven, accurate information. We have a responsibility to provide community members with confidence that vaccination is the right thing to do.”  

If you’re joining the fold and getting your vaccine soon, you may have some questions. Will I have side effects? What precautions should I continue to take? What can I do after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

Answers to those questions used to be less clear, but now that we have several months of data from both clinical trials and the real world, we know a lot more about what to expect after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Here are a few points to keep in mind as you prepare for your appointment.

Side effects can vary

Some people don’t get any side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, while others may have some swelling, redness or pain at the injection site, according to the CDC. You also may have some symptoms throughout your body, such as fatigue, headache, nausea, fever, chills or muscle pain, which tend to resolve in a day or less.

These symptoms may be widely reported, but not everyone experiences them. For example, in safety data reported by Pfizer-BioNTech to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 63% of people felt tired, 55% experienced headaches and 38% had muscle pain. Only about 14% of people reported a fever.

If you’re getting a vaccine that requires two doses, such as those from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, your second dose may be the one that is more likely to cause side effects. This means that your immune system is doing its job of protecting you from the virus that causes COVID-19. The science shows that the second dose is really important, so do not forego that second shot! If symptoms persist more than a few days, or if swelling at the injection site is worse after 24 hours, talk to your provider.

Some people may experience allergic reactions, though this is extremely rare. You’ll be asked to stay at the vaccination site for 15 to 30 minutes so healthcare professionals can monitor and treat any reactions that might occur.

You’re not “immune” right away

Vaccines work by giving the immune system a “key” to fight future infections, but this key takes a while to develop in the body, typically a few weeks. That’s why the CDC states that people are not considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or the only dose of a single-dose vaccine, like the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

Even when you are considered fully vaccinated, you should still take certain precautions. While data indicates that vaccines are effective at preventing COVID-19, there is still much to learn, such as how long immunity lasts and how well vaccines work against variants of the virus.

You can resume many normal activities

Once you’ve been fully vaccinated, you can get back to enjoying many normal activities. The CDC keeps an updated list of such activities, which may change as new data emerges.

For now, the CDC says that fully vaccinated people can:

  • Resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart in non-healthcare settings, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, or rules and regulations including local business and workplace guidance.
  • Travel in the United States without getting tested before or after, and without self-quarantine after.

You should still take precautions in certain settings

While vaccinations afford a bit more flexibility, the CDC states that fully vaccinated people should still take precautions like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing in certain settings, such as:

  • When using public transportation such as buses, or in transportation hubs like airports.
  • In healthcare settings, such as your provider’s office or a nursing home.

The CDC also notes that if fully vaccinated people have a medical condition or take medicine that weakens their immune system, they should speak with their healthcare provider about which precautions they should keep taking.

You’re doing your part

It may seem like such a simple task, but getting vaccinated really makes a difference — both for your own protection and for the protection of others. Just make sure you follow your healthcare provider or vaccinator’s instructions during your appointment.

One last thing: You may get a fun sticker to show off your newly “vaxxed” status. Wear it proudly. You might just motivate someone else to get vaccinated!

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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