The textbook definition of a vaccine is a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies that provide immunity against one or several diseases, and is prepared from the causative agent of the disease. Vaccines are considered a feat of medical science that have saved millions of lives across the globe, and in the time of COVID-19, it is considered a beacon of hope that offers protection against severe COVID-19 disease and possible death. Some individuals have no doubt about rolling up their sleeves, whereas others have questions and are fearful of the possible side-effects. Mild side-effects are common for vaccines and is telltale that a person’s body is building protection through the production of antibodies. In the following FAQ we address the most common questions around COVID-19 vaccine side-effects.
1. Is it normal to have side-effects from vaccines?
Yes, this is normal. Vaccines are designed to give you immunity without the dangers of getting severe disease. It is common to experience some mild-to-moderate side-effects when receiving vaccinations. This is because your immune system is instructing your body to react in certain ways: it increases blood flow so more immune cells can circulate, and it raises your body temperature in order to kill the virus.
2. What are some common side-effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
The most common side-effects that occur after vaccination are mild. They include:
- Pain, swelling, or redness where the vaccine was injected
- Mild fever
- Feeling tired
- Muscle and joint aches
3. What are rare side-effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
Less common side-effects reported for some COVID-19 vaccines have included:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face and throat
- A fast heartbeat
- A bad rash all over your body
- Dizziness and weakness
These serious side-effects from vaccines are extremely rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to be monitored for 15 minutes after vaccination, and those with a history of other allergies for 30 minutes. This allows for them to be monitored and treated immediately if they have a severe reaction.
4. When to Call the Doctor
In most cases, discomfort from pain or fever is a normal sign that your body is building protection. Contact your doctor or healthcare provider if:
- The redness or tenderness at the injection site worsens after 24 hours
- The side-effects are worrying and have not cleared after a few days
5. How long could symptoms or side-effects of COVID-19 vaccination last?
The vaccine side-effects should resolve within ~2 to 3 days after being administered the COVID-19 vaccine. At most, the side-effects can last up to a week.
6. What does it mean if there are no side-effects after getting vaccinated?
While the symptoms show the immune system is responding to the vaccine in a way that will protect against disease, evidence from clinical trials showed that those with few or no symptoms were also protected.
7. What are the chances of developing a blood clot after getting vaccinated?
A blood clot that develops after vaccination is called a Vaccine Induced Thrombosis. The most serious of these clots tend to occur in large veins in the brain and abdomen while the platelets (that would normally be part of the clotting process) drop dangerously low as well. This is called Vaccine Induced Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia. It is an extremely rare condition, but local experts and treatments are available. Chances of developing this condition is extremely rare and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) confirmed that no major safety concerns were identified in the healthcare workers who partook in the Sisonke vaccine trial.
8. What are the symptoms of this clotting condition?
- Severe headache with blurred vision, vomiting, weakness on one side of the body or difficulty speaking
- Severe abdominal pain that can also be associated with vomiting
- A rash of tiny red spots might occur under the skin around the injection site
- Leg pain or swelling
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
9. What should you do if you experience any of these symptoms?
If you present any of these symptoms, act without delay:
- Seek care immediately. Go to an emergency unit, tell the doctor when you were vaccinated and take any medication that you have been taking with you.
- A blood test will check if your platelets are low.
- Ask your doctor to phone the Sisonke Safety team of doctors at 0800 014 956 (24 hours).
- To find out more about adverse effects following a COVID-19 vaccination, click here.
Sources: WHO and CDC