It’s an exciting time in history. Here and around the world, people are receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations, signaling the beginning of the end of this pandemic. But before getting vaccinated, there are things you can do to prepare. Here, Allison Weinmann, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with Henry Ford Health, shares what to do—and when.
Before your appointment, learn about the vaccines.
It’s always a good idea to read up (from reputable sources) about the vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and healthcare systems, for example, are great places to get the facts.
A bit of background information: The COVID-19 vaccines (Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna) are safe and effective. They do not contain live virus so they cannot give you COVID-19. Rather, Pfizer and Moderna use messenger RNA (mRNA) from the genetic code of COVID-19’s spike protein. Our bodies make this protein, which then prompts our immune system to make protective antibody proteins, protecting us from COVID-19 infection. mRNA degrades rapidly and never gets near human DNA.
Johnson & Johnson uses viral vector technology, which uses a harmless version of a virus to deliver important instructions to our cells--the instructions to make COVID-19's spike protein. Our immune system recognizes that spike protein doesn't belong in our bodies. This activates an immune response and trains our bodies to protect us against COVID-19.
You can learn more vaccine facts here.
Eat beforehand and arrive well-rested.
The night before your appointment, make sure to get a good night’s sleep—it will help your immune system work to its fullest potential. If your appointment is around a mealtime, you should also eat beforehand and drink water—don’t go to your appointment hungry or thirsty.
If required, be ready to schedule your second appointment.
Johnson & Johnson requires only one shot, but Pfizer and Moderna both require two doses, spaced a few weeks apart. Receiving both vaccinations during this time frame is important to ensure that you receive full protection from COVID-19. During your first appointment, you will be asked to make an appointment for your second vaccination. Make sure it is a time and day that works for your schedule, as it’s important not to cancel.
Monitor your side effects.
After getting the shot, you’ll be asked to wait for 15 minutes before leaving the doctor’s office to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction. (If you’ve had an allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past, you’ll be asked to wait 30 minutes.)
After that, you are free to go. You may experience side effects like injection site pain, body aches, chills and a headache, but they should go away after 24 to 48 hours. These side effects don’t mean you have an infection—and you are not contagious. These side effects show that your body is creating an immune response and that the vaccine is working. You can take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to help ease symptoms, but do not take it before vaccination to prevent side effects – it may blunt the immune response.
Keep your vaccine record card.
At your appointment, you will receive a vaccination card with your name, date of vaccination and type of vaccine (whether Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson) written on it. Keep this card with you—or better yet, take a picture of it—so you don’t forget when you were vaccinated and the type of vaccine you received. You must receive the same type of vaccine for your second dose as you did for your first, so please bring this card to your second-dose appointment.
This card may also be important in the future to show before going into public places, such as your workplace or before getting on an airplane.
Continue to follow CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
After your first vaccination, you are still susceptible to contracting COVID-19. It can take around 2 weeks after your last vaccination to build up full immunity. But even after that, right now it is important to wear a face mask in public, practice social distancing, and wash your hands frequently.
“We don’t yet know whether you can be a carrier for COVID-19 after you’ve been vaccinated,” says Dr. Weinmann. “And we don’t know who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t. The vaccines are very effective, but they aren't 100% effective, so there's still a chance you could contract COVID-19. It's important to continue masking, social distancing and practicing hand hygiene.”
When a large portion of the population has been vaccinated, we will be able to go back to life the way it was.
“Getting vaccinated is vitally important to protect you, your family and the community,” says Dr. Weinmann. “The sooner most of us are vaccinated, the sooner this pandemic will be resolved.”
For answers to common questions about COVID-19 vaccines, visit henryford.com/coronavirus/vaccine-faqs.
Dr. Allison Weinmann is an infectious disease specialist and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.