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What To Expect When Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

Jan 7, 2021
By Spencer Blackman

Updated March 9, 2021

As public health authorities work to quickly distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines, you may be wondering what to expect when it’s your turn to get vaccinated. Given the newness of the vaccines, it’s normal to have questions and even feel a bit hesitant. Understanding what happens before, during and after your vaccination appointment can help ease any concerns and help you better prepare. From booking your appointment to the days following your shot, here’s everything you need to know before you go.

What do I need to do before getting the vaccine?

First, make sure you’re eligible for the vaccine by checking in with your local Department of Public Health. Due to limited supply, vaccine distribution is currently determined by local authorities based on prioritization of those at highest risk. Read here for more information on prioritization guidance in the states and counties where One Medical has clinics. As more vaccines become available, One Medical will share updates with our members about when and where you can get vaccinated.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or immunocompromised you will be offered vaccination, though you may want to discuss your decision with a care provider to determine whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Meanwhile, those who have a history of severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccine should not get the vaccine.

It is recommended to wait 14 days after receiving any other vaccine before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

What happens during the vaccine?

Please plan to wear a mask during the entirety of your visit and maintain at least 6 feet of distance while waiting for your appointment to start.

All three vaccines (Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) are administered the same way as the flu shot, injected into the muscle of the upper arm. For this reason, you may want to consider wearing loose-fitting clothing to your appointment for easy access. You should only feel a slight pinch upon injection, as you would with a flu shot. To make sure you don’t have an early allergic reaction, you will be asked to wait at least 15 minutes (or 30 minutes if you have had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past) before leaving your appointment.

Both the Pfizer/BioNtech and Modern vaccines require two doses for a full immune response. For Pfizer/BioNTech, the second dose is 21 days after the first, with a full immune response 14 days after the second dose. For Moderna, the second dose is 28 days after the first with a full immune response 10 days post second dose. Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose, with a full immune response 28 days after. After receiving your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, you will be given a vaccination card that tells you which COVID-19 vaccine you received, which day you received it, and where you received it. You should bring this card when you come back for your second dose.

What happens afterwards?

You may experience mild side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, including soreness at the site of injection, headache, nausea, feeling rundown and less commonly, fever. These symptoms are completely normal and actually a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine and building protection against the COVID-19 virus. They typically last less than 48 hours.

For mild symptoms, a pain-relief medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help.You can also reduce discomfort by applying a clean, cool washcloth over the affected area and using or exercising your arm. If you have a fever, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly.

Severe side effects to the Pfizer/BionNtech and Moderna vaccines have been very rare. Signs of a severe reaction include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of your face and throat
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • A bad rash all over your body
  • Dizziness and weakness

If you experience a severe allergic reaction, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest hospital. You should also contact your primary care provider if pain or tenderness around the injection site increases after 24 hours or if your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away.

The Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccines require two doses in order to be fully effective. So even if you experience side-effects after the first dose, it’s important to follow up and still get the second dose in order to be fully protected. Your second dose must be the same vaccine (Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna) as you received for the first dose.

Finally, it takes time for your body to fully build up immunity after a vaccine. You will not be fully protected until you have received the full vaccine series (two shots) and your immune system has had an additional 14 days or more to respond. It is unknown yet if those who are immune can still transmit the virus. Since no vaccine is 100% effective, you should continue to wear a mask and maintaini physical distance in public settings, as well as avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, even after being fully vaccinated well into 2021. The CDC has said, however, that fully vaccinated individuals can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals without wearing a mask. Fully vaccinated people can also visit indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, unless those people or anyone they live with is at high-risk for severe illness.

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Spencer Blackman, One Medical Provider

Spencer practices relationship-centered primary care, blending a traditional sensibility with up-to-date clinical knowledge and a strong focus on disease prevention. He enjoys getting to know his patients well, educating and empowering them to participate in health care decisions. Spencer completed his residency training at UCSF and practiced primary care, urgent care, sports medicine and adolescent medicine throughout the Bay Area before joining One Medical Group. He is certified with the American Board of Family Medicine. Spencer is a One Medical Group provider.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Orange County,Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.