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Can I take a pain reliever? Should I avoid alcohol? Here’s what experts say you can do right after you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine

People waited after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center clinic in Revere.
People waited after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center clinic in Revere.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Thousands of people in Massachusetts are receiving COVID-19 shots each day, leaving many to wonder what to expect and how to care for themselves right after they’ve been vaccinated.

Massachusetts residents 16 and older are now eligible to book appointments, and so far more than 5 million COVID-19 shots have been administered in the state, with more than 2 million people fully vaccinated against the virus.

Some people may experience side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And those who have yet to get their injections might be wondering: is it okay to take over-the-counter medicine right after? What should you do if your arm is feeling sore?

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The CDC has issued recommendations and experts are weighing in on what you can do right after you’ve had a COVID-19 shot.

Can I take over-the-counter medication after the shot?

The CDC recommends people who have been vaccinated speak to their doctor about taking over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, or antihistamines for any pain or discomfort they feel after the shot.

The agency added that you can take the medications to help with the post-vaccine side effects “if you have no other medical reasons that prevent you from taking these medications normally.”

Dr. Helen Boucher, chief of infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center, said the side effects respond well to over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or Motrin.

The CDC does not recommend people take over-the-counter medications before they receive the shot to prevent the side effects.

What about drinking alcohol?

The CDC doesn’t explicitly state that people should avoid drinking alcohol after being vaccinated.

Dr. Sandra Nelson, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said she is not aware of any strong guidance on drinking alcohol after the shot, but she said would recommend people avoid heavy drinking after because it can be dehydrating.

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“Drinking could exacerbate the fatigue, achiness, or headache symptoms people might feel,” Nelson said.

What can I do if my arm is feeling sore?

Boucher said the main side effect of the vaccine is soreness at the site of the injection.

People who have been vaccinated might experience pain, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot, according to the CDC.

To help reduce pain and discomfort in the arm, the CDC recommends people apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area and try to use or exercise the arm.

What if I’m feeling other side effects?

After the COVID-19 vaccine, some may have headaches, tiredness, muscle pain, chills, fever, or nausea, according to the CDC.

Boucher said if those who have received a vaccine encounter side effects, it is important for them to know they are short lived in most cases.

The symptoms could last between one and three days, Boucher said, and the most common day for symptoms is the day after the shot.

Nelson said people who are getting vaccinated should plan to take it easy in the first couple of days after receiving their shots and avoid strenuous activity.

While allergic reactions after the vaccine are rare and most occur within the 15- to 30-minute observation period after receiving the shot, Nelson said a small proportion of allergic reactions occur after.

If someone develops signs of a serious allergic reaction including difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth or face, wheezing, or throat tightness, they should seek emergency care, Nelson said.

When should I call my doctor?

The CDC notes that discomfort from pain or fever is, in most cases, a normal sign that your body is building protection against the virus.

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The agency notes that while the side effects from the shot can affect your ability to do daily activities, they should go away in a few days.

People should contact their doctor if the redness or tenderness where they got the shot gets worse after 24 hours or if their side effects are worrying and don’t appear to be going away after a few days.

The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna require two shots for full vaccination, and the CDC says the side effects from your second shot may be more intense than those you experienced after your first.

I’ve gotten my second shot. How long until I’m immune, really?

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the CDC.

Nelson cautioned that those who have received their first dose should not let their guards down, as it takes time to build immunity against the virus and it’s still possible to be infected with COVID-19 after the first dose.

“Don’t assume with the first dose that you’re protected,” Nelson said. “You shouldn’t relax mitigation measures. People get COVID shortly after their first vaccine. It clearly takes time to build immunity.”

The CDC recommends continuing to take public health precautions until you’ve been fully vaccinated, and once you are, follow its guidance for vaccinated individuals.

It’s very rare, but some people have tested positive for the virus in the two-week period after being vaccinated. As of April 13, more than 75 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, and about 5,800 cases of what experts are calling “breakthrough cases” were reported.

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What can I do once I’ve been fully vaccinated?

In recent weeks, the CDC has released guidance on socializing with others, wearing masks, and traveling for those who are fully vaccinated.

Read about the agency’s suggestions here.


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.