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Sharp Health News

Why the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine has more kick

June 8, 2021

Player taking penalty kick during soccer match
In the U.S, all people age 12 and older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. While the dosage of the 2-dose vaccines are the same, regardless of age, some people report differences in the reactions they have to their second shot.

With the first dose of the vaccine, most people experience some soreness at the vaccination site. This is usually nothing that a little pain reliever can’t help.

Weeks later, however, reactions to the second dose can be different. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), side effects after your second shot may be more intense than the ones you experienced after your first. 

Vaccine side effects can include the following:
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
The CDC reports that these side effects may feel like flu symptoms and might even affect your ability to do daily activities. However, they should go away in a few days.

What a vaccine reaction really means
According to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, a reaction to the vaccine is an indication that your immune system is working and your body is building protection against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The mRNA vaccines use genetic material from the virus, which gives your cells instructions for how to make copies of the spike protein unique to the virus. Recognizing that the protein should not be there, the body creates protective antibodies that will remember how to fight the virus in case of future infection.

These antibodies are created after you receive the first dose and are already revved up to react when the second dose is administered. That then primes the immune system to recognize the spike protein if you are later exposed to the actual coronavirus, so it can spring into action quickly and defend your body against it. This occurs even if you don’t experience a big reaction to the vaccine — or any reaction at all.

How to manage vaccine side effects
Talk with your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if you experience pain or discomfort after receiving either dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. You should also drink plenty of fluids and rest, as needed.

To reduce the pain and discomfort in your arm without the use of medication, the CDC suggests you apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area. You can also exercise your arm to improve blood flow and reduce soreness. Simple stretches, arm circles and using your arms as you regularly would should do the trick.

The importance of the second shot
Whether you experience side effects with your first dose or not, Dr. Walensky encourages you to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, unless otherwise advised by your doctor. Recent studies have found the vaccines’ effectiveness increases to 94% after 2 or more weeks from when the second dose is received. 

What’s more, once you are fully vaccinated, you can resume some activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state or local rules and regulations, such as in California, where the mask mandate will remain in effect until June 15. If you receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a second dose is not required, and you are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after your 1 and only dose.

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

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