Let's Chat About The Side Effects Of The COVID-19 Vaccines

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

Everyone’s following news of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines like they’re some scandalous British royal. The Pfizer vaccine is leaving the facility! First doses were given to healthcare workers in New York! The Moderna vaccine will be two doses! Together the companies will produce about 60 million doses by the end of January!

We’re convinced these vaccines will save us from COVID-19, but we’ve forgotten two things: according to The Washington Post, only about half of Americans say they’ll get jabbed. And any vaccine will have side effects, which may make it a hard sell. But every vaccine has side effects. We know this. Flu vaccines have side effects, which, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), commonly range from “soreness, redness, and/or swelling where the shot was given, headache (low grade), fever, nausea, muscle aches, and fatigue.” When I got my flu vaccine a few weeks ago, my shoulder hurt like I’d banged it on a doorway. When New Jersey resident Timothy Smith got what he thinks was a COVID-19 shot from Pfizer, not a placebo, his arm “felt like somebody had bashed [it] for a solid hour,” reports The Washington Post.

The Danger of Real Side Effects: The Flu

Like me, Smith says he “wasn’t worried,” because he expected side effects, but every year, people refuse the flu vaccine because of its relatively mild side effects. Everyone’s heard “I got the flu from the flu vaccine” — not just because someone contracted the flu soon after receiving the vaccine, or in spite of it (flu vaccines are meant to decrease the virus’s severity, not totally prevent it). No: people claim they got the flu from the vaccine, because they mistake the vaccine’s fever-and-fatigue as the flu.

Moreover, fear of these mild side effects will actually prevent people from getting the flu shot. According to US News and World Report, 36% of people who don’t get the flu shot say its side effects are a major reason. Another 21% call its side effects a minor reason. In other words, 57% of people who don’t get jabbed for the seasonal flu, which killed 24,000-62,000 people last flu season, says

And The COVID Vaccine’s Could Be Worse

COVID-19 vaccine’s side effects are not likely to be a walk in the park. In fact, they’re slated to be potentially worse than a flu shot’s. They’re a sign, reports The Washington Post, that the vaccine is working. Moreover, side effects from a second shot (both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots) will likely be worse than the first.

In fact, reports The Washington Post,a 53-page analysis of the Pfizer vaccine showed that some people had “unpleasant but tolerable side effects” which included “fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, chills and fever.” Kelly Moore of the Immunization Action Coalition told The Washington Post that “The way they work, you will feel that they’re working.” In other words: expect a reaction. She continues: “[T]hat reaction may be a sore arm or some redness where the injection was given. Or you may even feel flu-like, you may have a headache or body aches for a day or so, and it’s absolutely normal. There’s nothing dangerous or bad about these reactions.”

Moderna has said some of their trial participants had side effects that were on the “severe” end, or which “impeded daily activity.” These included “fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and headache, among others,” usually worse after the second dose, reports The Washington Post. The Pfizer vaccine reports fatigue and headaches after the second dose.

Side Effects Are A Bummer, But COVID’s Worse.

Side effects suck, but COVID kills. The key, experts agree, is informing the public about the vaccine. A Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor published December 15th showed that 71% of Americans across racial and political lines are now likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 27% are still hesitant, even if “it was determined to be safe by scientists and available for free.”

Republicans, at 42%, are the least likely to get vaccinated, followed by the 30-49 year-old age bracket (36%), and 35% of Black adults — a group hard-hit by the pandemic. About one-third of essential workers and those “who work in a health care delivery setting” say they won’t be getting vaccinated, either.

We have to make sure that 71% doesn’t freak out when they see someone doesn’t show up for work the day after they get vaccinated because they don’t feel well. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy has some recommendations to get people to take the vaccine, which, when combined with careful explanations from a trusted health care provider about expected side effects, could help people to get the shot — and come back for another.

First, any vaccine should be free and easily accessible, like the flu shot. Second, banning people from “high value places” like “K-12 schools, workplaces, retail establishments, and gyms” unless they’ve been vaccinated could help. Employers could mandate that people get vaccinated, as long as they provide exemptions and alternatives like working from home. Other recommendations include publicly vaccinating high-profile figures.

Public discussion of common side effects is also necessary. Not only do people need to hear about those side effects from a trusted healthcare professional, but they should also hear about them as a matter of public discourse, so everyone knows: when you get the COVID shot, you might feel bad for a day or two.

And those who complain, “I haven’t gotten my shot because I don’t want to feel bad,” can then be properly shamed as dangers to public health. The side effects can become almost a badge of honor: look what I did to help others. If we promote them that way, those fever and chills can almost become an asset. And maybe then we can put the pandemic to bed for good.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.

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