Unless you absolutely need to take painkillers for a medical condition, it’s best to avoid them. Even though the evidence is limited, some painkillers might interfere with the effectiveness of your COVID-19 vaccine. To better understand why this happens, we have to take a quick look at how vaccines work.
Vaccines trick the body into thinking it has a virus in order to trigger an immune response. As a result, vaccines, irrespective of their composition, induce some level of inflammation within a few hours of being administered. This may cause arm soreness, fever, headache, muscle aches or other temporary symptoms of inflammation.
“These symptoms mean your immune system is revving up and the vaccine is working,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a recent news briefing.
Can I take painkillers before or after a COVID-19 vaccine?
It depends. Some painkillers that specifically target inflammation, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brands) might curb the immune response to the vaccine. This reduces the body’s ability to build up defenses against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
“We do not recommend premedication with ibuprofen or Tylenol before COVID-19 vaccines due to the lack of data on how it impacts the vaccine-induced antibody responses,” Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Medical Center and a member of COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group in Massachusetts, told ABC News.
A study on mice published in the Journal of Virology found that painkillers might lower production of antibodies. Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system that fight off pathogens. COVID-19 vaccines induce the body to generate antibodies that specifically target the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
If you’re already taking one of those medications for a health condition, you should not stop before you get the vaccine — at least not without asking your doctor, said Jonathan Watanabe, a pharmacist at the University of California, Irvine.
People should not take a painkiller as a preventive measure before getting a vaccine unless a doctor has told them to, he said. The same goes for after a shot: “If you don’t need to take it, you shouldn’t,” Watanabe said. If you do need one, acetaminophen (Tylenol) “is safer because it doesn’t alter your immune response,” he added.
Here are some tips from the CDC on how to reduce pain and discomfort from where you got the shot:
- Apply a clean, cool, wet washcloth over the area.
- Use or exercise your arm.
To reduce discomfort from fever:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Dress lightly.
When to call the doctor
In most cases, some discomfort from fever or pain is normal. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider should you experience the following:
- If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours
- If your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days