Why do we get side effects from vaccines? Experts say that means it’s working

The cooling sensation of an alcohol swab on your upper bicep is a clue to what’s coming next: the injection of a needle that will deliver a dose of the vaccine.

More than 69% of Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and when a bandage is put on your arm, you’re part of the club.

Whether you get your first injection, a second dose, or a booster shot, you’re likely to experience some side effects.

They can be uncomfortable, and they certainly can be uncomfortable. But immunologists and virologists say they are to be expected. And maybe even greet them.

Here’s why and what to expect when going on a date with a needle.

Why do vaccinations cause side effects?

Put simply, the side effects are a biological sign that the vaccine is working.

All three COVID-19 vaccines available in the US work effectively in the same way, said Dr. David Pride, infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego.

The vaccines contain genetic instructions to make copies of the coronavirus spike protein. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to carry the instructions, and the Johnson & Johnson shot uses an inactivated adenovirus, which is harmless.

Once the instructions have been delivered, it’s up to your cells to do the work. The fake spike proteins cannot do any harm because they are not related to real coronaviruses. But your body will recognize them and think an infection is in progress, prompting the immune system to spring into action, Pride said. You can think of it like a training run.

The immune response consists of two parts. First, the innate immune system is alerted to the arrival of possible viruses or other pathogens in your body, said Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. The adaptive immune system then produces antibodies that can respond appropriately to the invader – and, if necessary, to an actual encounter with the virus in the future.

The side effects you experience are a natural part of your immune system’s response to the vaccine’s viral payload.

What is normal and what is not?

Side effects of a COVID-19 vaccine are sometimes mild and sometimes more severe, like a bad cold or flu. In any case, they should not last longer than 72 hours.

The most common side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are low-grade fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, chills, and nausea. Transient pain at the injection site is also common. like dr George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC San Francisco, puts it: you just got stuck with a needle; Vaccination or not, it’s going to hurt.

The clinic or pharmacy where you get your injection will ask you to stay 15 or 30 minutes after the injection so they can monitor you for rare but serious reactions, such as: B. an acute allergic reaction requiring adrenaline.

Once you get home, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Advil. (Don’t take them before your vaccination, as this could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine.) Aside from allowing your body to rest, there’s not much else you can do while you ride out normal side effects.

Rarely, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart) occurs in the week after vaccination, particularly in teenagers and young men. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a feeling of a fast beating or pounding heart. If this happens to you, seek medical attention immediately. In most cases, the conditions are easily managed with medication and rest.

A very small number of people – mostly women under the age of 50 – who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a serious side effect called thrombosis with thrombocytopenic syndrome or TTS. Symptoms include chest pain, leg swelling, shortness of breath, headache and abdominal pain. If you develop these symptoms after a J&J vaccination, see a doctor immediately.

Any other symptoms not normally associated with vaccines should be monitored. If they don’t improve, call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

Does the absence of side effects mean the vaccine isn’t working?

no Some “lucky ones” experience few or no side effects. But that doesn’t mean their immune system isn’t responding properly.

Hotez said there was no correlation between the severity of side effects and the strength of the immune response. In other words, having no side effects doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work, and having more side effects doesn’t mean it works better.

Antibody tests can show how well your immune system has responded to a vaccine, but Pride said people with compromised immune systems are the only ones to worry about. For most people, there is little chance that the vaccine will not stimulate an immune response. Talk to your doctor if you are not sure.

What else you should know about vaccinations

  • It is impossible for you to get the coronavirus from the vaccines.
  • Likewise, if you feel sick after a vaccination, you don’t have to worry about being contagious and spreading COVID-19 to others.
  • Booster shots are necessary, Hotez said. Vaccinations are almost always given in a row, and the COVID-19 vaccine turns out to be no different. For the best immune response, you need to keep training your system, he said.
  • You have the option of getting a different type of vaccine for your booster than you did for your first vaccination. Sticking with the same brand or taking a mix-and-match approach won’t make much of a difference in terms of side effects, Pride said.
  • Breakthrough infections can occur in fully vaccinated individuals, but rarely result in serious illness, hospitalization, or death. You can check if you have an active infection using an over-the-counter rapid test.

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2021-12-14/why-do-we-get-side-effects-from-vaccines-experts-say-that-means-its-working Why do we get side effects from vaccines? Experts say that means it’s working

Russell Falcon

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