It couldn't come at a better time, as COVID infection rates have been sharply on the rise since August thanks to the new Eris variant. While immunologists agree that it's important to get the new COVID-19 booster, it shouldn't be your only means of protection from the virus, especially with the rates spiking at the beginning of autumn and ahead of the holidays.
"The vaccine should be used in conjunction with other protective measures such as masking and ventilation for those people at higher risk for severe disease (like people over 65 or with underlying medical conditions)," immunologist and University of South Florida associate dean of internal medicine Dr. Michael N. Teng, MD, tells Parade.
What Are the Side Effects of the New COVID-19 Vaccine?
According to Dr. Kirsten Hokeness, Ph.D., immunologist and professor of biological and biomedical sciences at Bryant University, you can pretty much expect the side effects of the new COVID-19 booster to be like the previous COVID vaccines. These can include:
Pain at the injection site
Swollen lymph nodes
Some patients may also experience mild muscle aches, chills or a low-grade fever.
Do the side effects stink? Yes. But the good news is, having them is an indicator that your immune system is getting to work—and so is the vaccine—at protecting you from a more serious COVID infection down the line.
It's important to note, however, that some patients may not experience any side effects at all. This doesn't mean the vaccine isn't working! Everyone's bodies and immune systems are unique.
How Long Do COVID Vaccine Side Effects Typically Last?
While COVID vaccine side effects can be pretty crummy, most people get over them within a few days at the most. Immunologist Dr. Jenna Podjasek, MD, says that most COVID booster side effects are mild and subside within 24 to 48 hours. (Compare that to, say, a severe case of COVID or worse, long COVID—which the vaccine may help prevent—and it's basically a cakewalk.)
Do the Benefits of the New COVID Vaccine Outweigh the Risks?
Immunologists almost unanimously agree: Yes, the benefits of the new vaccine absolutely outweigh the risk of side effects!
"The benefit-risk profile indicates that serious side effects that have the potential to cause long-term health issues are very rare following the COVID vaccine as opposed to the reported damaging impacts the infection can cause, including long COVID and even death," Dr. Hokeness explains.
The other obvious upside to getting the new booster is that it's more effective against new variants.
"The updated vaccine matches the circulating strains much better than the original vaccines, so there is a clear benefit to it," Dr. Teng says. "Also, our antibody response wanes over time from both vaccination and infection. It is a good idea to bolster our immune protection as we head into the holiday season where there will be a lot of travel and interaction in enclosed spaces."
In short, the chance that you'll have severe side effects from the vaccine pales in comparison to the chance of severe impacts from getting COVID or long COVID, which can be outright debilitating for many.
What Are the Best Ways To Manage the New COVID Vaccine's Side Effects?
"Everyone will experience different symptoms to varying degrees, so it is important to listen to your body and rest as needed," Dr. Hokeness recommends.
You can also take over-the-counter pain medication after your vaccine to manage pain and soreness. If you have more severe symptoms that aren't alleviated with over-the-counter medicines or rest, however, Dr. Teng advises you to check in with your doctor.