Right now, unless you're a health care or frontline essential worker, you're probably still waiting for your chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Your turn might be right around the corner — or it might not come for some time. Still, no matter where you are "in line," it helps to have a game plan for what to do in the minutes, days and months after receiving the vaccine, to continue to keep yourself and others safe.
Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Here are the steps to follow:
1. Make an Appointment for Your Second Dose
The vaccine isn't a one-and-done affair.
Based on clinical trials for the two vaccines available right now, there are specific recommendations for when you need to get your second shot. If you get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, you'll need to get your second dose in 21 days. For the Moderna vaccine, you'll wait 28 days, per the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
We just don't know how much protection you might get if you only get one dose or get the second shot outside the recommended window.
And that, says the FDA, might lead you to make risky choices if you're assuming you're good to go (e.g. not wearing a mask).
"Once you receive the first dose, you should leave with a second appointment for the second dose. You can't just say you're going to call later to schedule," Patricia Couto, MD, an infectious disease physician with Orlando Health, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
2. Watch for a Reaction
News reports of people having an allergic reaction to the vaccine can be alarming. But it's important to keep things in perspective.
According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, there were 21 cases of anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction) following nearly 1.9 million first doses of the Pfizer vaccine given between December 14 and 23. (That comes out to 11.1 cases per million doses.)
In other words, it's very rare. In fact, your risk of getting sick with COVID-19 (without the vaccine) is much higher than the risk of allergy or anaphylaxis from the vaccine, Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said during a press briefing on January 27.
Most severe reactions happen within the first 15 minutes of receiving the vaccine. For that reason, you should plan on sticking around to be monitored (the health care professional on site will provide guidance here).
But the majority of reactions are mild and might include pain and swelling where you got your shot, fever, chills, tiredness or headache, per the CDC. These reactions are more common after the second dose, Dr. Walensky noted, but nothing to be concerned about — they're a sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine, and they should go away in a few days.
If you have pain or discomfort after your shot, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Let your doctor know if redness or tenderness where you got the shot increases after 24 hours or your side effects don't seem to be going away after a few days.
3. Continue to Wear a Mask
You might have a collection of stylish masks at your disposal by now, but we know you're ready to get rid of them. Not so fast.
"Just because you are vaccinated, it does not mean you should change any of your proper public health behaviors," Matthew Frieman, PhD, of the department of microbiology and immunology at The University of Maryland School of Medicine, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
And that's for a few reasons: First, clinical trials haven't concluded whether those who've been vaccinated can still carry and be contagious with the virus, he says. (In other words, you might still be able to get other people sick.)
What's more, "just like any vaccine, not every individual will produce high levels of antibodies. There will still be many people in the community around us that can carry the virus," Frieman says.
This won't change until there are enough people vaccinated. For the safety of you and others, mask up when you're in public.
Don't plan any big get-togethers just yet. Even if you're wearing masks, a "post-vaccination party" isn't appropriate. You should still maintain social distance, Frieman says.
While we're at it, here's your daily reminder to keep washing your hands to prevent the spread of COVID (and the flu).
5. Encourage People in Your Life to Get the Vaccine
Only you know how your friends and loved ones will react to your suggestion that they, too, get the vaccine. However, you could start by telling them that you got the vaccine, talking about your experience (did your arm get a bit sore like a flu shot?) and why it was important for you to do so. That alone can help encourage someone to take the same step.
"If someone is eligible for the vaccine, I encourage them to consider it very strongly," Dr. Couto says.
Read more stories to help you navigate the novel coronavirus pandemic:
Is This an Emergency?
- Food & Drug Administration (FDA): “FDA Statement on Following the Authorized Dosing Schedules for COVID-19 Vaccines”
- CDC: “Allergic Reactions Including Anaphylaxis After Receipt of the First Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine – United States, December 14 – 23, 2020”
- CDC: "What to Expect after Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine"