What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

Aug 9, 2022

The world is one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and while there is a lot of heartache in the rearview mirror, there is some hope ahead. Vaccines are rolling out to fight this deadly virus, and millions of people around the country are anxiously awaiting their turn to get a shot. For at-risk groups like senior citizens, the vaccine is especially welcome—but it might bring with it some uncertainty.

Getting a vaccine is routine for most people since it is typical to get shots throughout childhood and various boosters as an adult. If you get your annual flu shot, you are used to rolling up your sleeve and getting a poke to protect you through the winter. Yet, as much as people are accustomed to getting vaccines, getting a brand new vaccine for a novel virus is unusual. Many people, understandably, might wonder what to expect from this new inoculation. As you take your turn getting the new COVID-19 vaccine, here’s what you should know.

Will I Get COVID-19 from the Vaccine?

No, you cannot get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines approved for use, as well as those still in production, do not contain any live virus and cannot infect you with COVID-19. There is a small possibility, however, of being infected with the virus from other sources even after vaccination. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are about 95 percent effective, so one in 20 people might still get sick. Even if you do get sick after you’ve been vaccinated, the shots will lower your chances of developing a severe case of the illness.

What Are the Possible Side Effects?

While the COVID-19 vaccine won’t infect you with the virus, you might experience some side effects after you get your shot, such as some swelling and pain in your arm from the shot, a fever, chills, a headache, or tiredness. These minor side effects should go away after a few days and can be treated with rest and over-the-counter medication. Rarely, an allergic reaction can occur after any vaccination, though less than five in one million have been reported with the COVID-19 vaccine. These allergic reactions can be treated immediately by healthcare providers.

“Don’t let possible side effects discourage you from getting a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Srah Hilton, a registered nurse. “These temporary discomforts are a sign your immune system is doing its job, and the vaccine can protect you from serious illness that can have a long-term impact on your health.”

When Will I Be Fully Protected?

Once you’ve had your first COVID-19 vaccination shot, make sure you set an appointment for your second shot as well. If you’ve had the Pfizer or Moderna shots, you’ll need a second shot in 21 or 28 days, respectively. You won’t be considered fully protected until two weeks after your second dose. As additional vaccine options become available, some may only require a single dose. Even with a single-dose vaccine, it will take a few weeks for immunity to build up.

How Long Will Immunity Last?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good answer yet on how long you can expect to be protected by the COVID-19 vaccine. With a new disease and a new vaccine, it will take time to understand how long immunity will last and whether a booster shot will be needed later on. Some research has shown that people who were infected with COVID-19 still had some immunity after 90 days, but there is no data available yet on how long people retain immunity from the virus.

Keep Up Precautions

Although the COVID-19 vaccine is a monumental achievement and a big step to getting through the pandemic, it isn’t quite the end of the road yet. Even after vaccination, safety precautions like masks and social distancing will need to continue for some time. Experts don’t know yet if people who have been vaccinated can spread the virus without showing symptoms. It will take a while to get shots to enough people to stop the spread of COVID-19, so health officials are asking for everyone to continue these efforts for a little longer.

The new COVID-19 vaccines are an amazing medical achievement that provides hope that life can return to normal—especially for people in at-risk groups. As the world fights this pandemic, take advantage of all the tools at your disposal: social distancing, masks, washing your hands, and getting a vaccine.