For the media

Should you get the vaccine if you’ve already had COVID-19?

By The Health News Team | February 2, 2021
Hand of medical staff injecting COVID-19 vaccine to arm

More than 3 million residents in California have had COVID-19 in the past year. These individuals may be wondering when — and even if — they should get the COVID-19 vaccine once they are eligible to receive it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), because there are severe health risks associated with COVID-19, especially for older adults and people with chronic health conditions, everyone who is eligible should receive the vaccine, even after having COVID-19.

What’s more, it has been proven that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible, and experts have not yet determined how long someone is protected from future infection after recovering from COVID-19.

“We have seen that the immunity gained from being infected with the novel coronavirus differs from person to person,” says Dr. Chitra Safaya, a board-certified infectious disease and internal medicine physician affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “While recent studies indicate immunity may last for 3 or more months in most people, the disease has not been with us long enough to really determine how long natural immunity caused by COVID-19 illness may last.”

Expert advice for people who had COVID-19

While the CDC advises that people who have had COVID-19 receive the vaccination — noting that the vaccine is as safe and effective for them as it is for those who have never been infected — it does offer additional guidelines about when vaccination should occur:

  • There is no minimum amount of time required between infection and vaccination. However, vaccination should be postponed until a person is no longer experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 and they have completed the full 10 days of isolation. 

  • Because risk of reinfection is minimal within 3 months of initial infection, people can postpone their vaccination for 90 days, if they prefer. 

  • If a person received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma as part of their COVID-19 treatment, it is important to know that there is currently no data on the safety or effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination after these treatments. However, if they choose to receive the vaccine, it is recommended they postpone vaccination for at least 90 days after treatment.

Common reactions to the vaccine

Additionally, it is important to understand that the two vaccines currently being administered were not studied in people who had prior COVID-19 infection, so it is not known if the immune response to the vaccine may be stronger in people who previously had COVID-19 than in those who did not have the illness. However, it is believed the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any risk of reactions, the majority of which are mild.

Common vaccine reactions last just 1 to 3 days and include:

  • Sore arm (where the vaccine was injected)

  • Body aches

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Chills

“Considering the possibility of reinfection and the lack of knowledge surrounding the exact period of immunity after illness, I strongly recommend that everyone who is eligible — including people who have had COVID-19 — receive the vaccine, as well as continue to practice preventive measures,” Dr. Safaya says. “This includes wearing a mask, washing your hands often, avoiding crowds, maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others not in your household, and staying home when sick.”

People who have concerns about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or who are experiencing long-term symptoms from their initial COVID-19 illness should talk to their doctor. It is currently unknown if people who experience COVID-19 symptoms long after infection may have a compromised immune system. The CDC reports that while these individuals can receive the COVID-19 vaccine, there is currently insufficient data to assure the safety and efficacy of vaccination for this group.

Learn about COVID-19 vaccine distribution, safety and more.

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