Can I take painkillers before or after a COVID-19 vaccine?

Health experts advise against taking painkillers before getting a COVID-19 vaccine, but say they're OK to use afterward if symptom relief is needed and your doctor agrees

Can I take painkillers before or after a COVID-19 vaccine?

Don’t take them before a shot to try to prevent symptoms, but if your doctor agrees, it’s OK to use them afterward if needed.

The concern about painkillers is that they might curb the very immune system response that a vaccine aims to spur. Vaccines work by tricking the body into thinking it has a virus and mounting a defense against it. That may cause temporary arm soreness, fever, muscle aches or other symptoms of inflammation — signs the vaccine is doing its job.

Some research suggests that certain painkillers including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brands) might diminish the immune system's response. A study on mice suggests these drugs might lower production of antibodies, which block the virus from infecting cells.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to recommend against painkillers before a COVID-19 shot. It says they can be taken afterward for symptoms if you have no other medical conditions precluding their use, but to talk to your doctor.

If you’re already taking one of those medications for a health condition, you should not stop before you get the vaccine — at least not without asking your doctor, said Jonathan Watanabe, a pharmacist at the University of California, Irvine.

If you’re looking to relieve symptoms after your shot, he added, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is better because it works in a different way than some other painkillers.

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

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