The Taos Community Medical COVID Task Force is a volunteer coalition of local healthcare providers and community partners working to build collaborations to strengthen our local medical response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. In this column, local healthcare providers will be answering common questions about COVID-19 in our community. If you have a question you would like to submit, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please check out taoscovidtaskforce.com for the latest medical information about COVID-19 in Taos.
Is it okay to take medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) after my COVID vaccine if I experience side effects?
COVID vaccines are meant to cause a strong immune response to protect you from the disease. You may be hesitant to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen after your COVID vaccine because there is a theoretical risk that these types of medicines could reduce the strength of your immune response to the vaccine. However, this has not been proven in scientific studies.
The data for COVID vaccines in adults show that many participants in the vaccine research studies did take these medications, and the vaccines were still 95 percent effective. So, taking these medications is unlikely to have much of an effect in the real world.
My advice is to avoid taking these medications if you can. However, if you have moderate or severe side effects from the vaccine and cannot do activities such as going to work or taking care of your family, do go ahead and take them to help you to feel better. It is unlikely this will significantly decrease the effectiveness of your vaccine.
If you have more questions about using medications to relieve vaccine side effects, your medical provider or pharmacist can help.
Should I take medications before my COVID vaccine to prevent side effects?
No. The vaccines are designed to activate your immune system against Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Any side effects you experience are good signs your immune system is doing its job. Many people have no or mild side effects with the COVID vaccines. And since you don't know if you will have side effects, don't take medications beforehand for prevention. However, if you do develop moderate or severe side effects after your vaccine, you can take them to help you feel better. It is unlikely that you are making the vaccine less effective by taking these medications.
Another type of medications to avoid before your COVID vaccine is antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). These medications do not prevent anaphylaxis, which is a very rare reaction with the COVID vaccines. But they can cover-up the symptoms of anaphylaxis, so it is best not to take them on the day of your vaccine.
What if I am taking other medications that suppress my immune system like prednisone or chemotherapy?
If you are prescribed medications that suppress your immune system, you are likely high-risk for COVID complications, so vaccination is recommended. Medical research is ongoing about whether delaying doses might improve your response to the vaccine. So, if you take medications such as prednisone or chemotherapy, it is important that you discuss your vaccination schedule with your doctor before receiving your COVID vaccine - never modify your medications on your own!
Dr. Alana Benjamin is a board-certified family physician who practices at Taos Whole Health. She has been facilitating the Taos Community Medical COVID Task Force since the beginning of the pandemic.