Explained: Can I take pain relievers before or after a COVID-19 vaccine?

Do not take them before an injection to try to prevent symptoms, but if your doctor agrees you can use them afterwards if needed.

The concern with pain relievers is that they might dampen the immune system response that a vaccine aims to stimulate. Vaccines work by tricking the body into thinking it has a virus and building up a defense against it. This can cause temporary arm pain, fever, muscle pain, or other symptoms of inflammation – signs that the vaccine is doing its job.

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Some research suggests that certain pain relievers, including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and other brands), may decrease the immune system’s response. A study in mice suggests that these drugs may reduce the production of antibodies, which prevent the virus from infecting cells.

Other research has shown that pain relievers may dampen the response to some childhood vaccines, so many pediatricians recommend that parents avoid giving the drugs to children before a vaccine and only if necessary afterwards, Dr William said. Schaffner, infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated their guidelines for recommending pain relievers before a COVID-19 vaccine. He says they can be mistaken for symptoms later if you don’t have any other medical conditions preventing their use, but to talk to your doctor.

If you’re already taking any of these drugs for a health problem, you shouldn’t stop until you receive the vaccine – at least not without asking your doctor, said Jonathan Watanabe, a pharmacist at the University of California at Irvine.

If you’re looking to relieve symptoms after your injection, he added, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is better because it works differently than some other pain relievers.

“If you have a reaction afterwards and need something, take acetaminophen,” Schaffner agreed. He added that the immune response generated by the vaccines is strong enough that any attenuating effect from pain relievers is likely to be mild and will not compromise the injections.

The CDC offers other tips, like holding a cool, damp washcloth over the shot area and exercising that arm. For fever, drink plenty of fluids and dress lightly. Call your doctor if the redness or tenderness in the arm increases after a day or if the side effects don’t go away after a few days, the CDC says.