If You Weigh More Than This, Your Vaccine Needle Will Be Bigger, CDC Says

Lauren Gray
·3 min read

For those among us who are afraid of needles, getting a vaccine can be a daunting prospect. To make matters worse, vaccine-related content, from pamphlets in your doctor's office to the covers of popular magazines, are frequently printed with images of oversized syringes for effect. Now, some medical professionals fear that this imagery is dissuading people from getting their COVID jabs, which have been the subject of particularly aggressive vaccine hesitancy.

As it turns out, the COVID vaccine is distributed under the same sizing recommendations as every other vaccine in the U.S. According to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the size of your vaccine needle has little to do with which vaccine you're receiving—and everything to do with your body mass. Read on to find out how your weight may affect the size of the needle used for your vaccine, and for more essential vaccine news, Pfizer CEO Says This Is Exactly When You'll Need Another COVID Vaccine.

People under a certain weight should get their jab with a one-inch needle.

While the CDC says that individual medical providers can use "clinical judgment…when selecting needles to administer injectable vaccines," they've also offered clear parameters for needle size based on patient weight. For adults aged 19 and older who weigh up to 152 pounds, the organization recommends a one-inch needle with a 25 gauge for both men and women.

That's because "the needle should be long enough to reach the muscle mass and prevent vaccine from seeping into subcutaneous tissue, but not so long as to involve underlying nerves, blood vessels, or bone," explains the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. And for more COVID vaccine news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Practitioners may choose from a small range of needle sizes for people over 152 pounds.

For men between 152 and 260 pounds and for women between 152 and 200 pounds, the CDC recommends that vaccine administrators use a needle between one and one and a half inches. These syringes also have a slightly smaller 25-38 gauge. (When it comes to needles, the higher the gauge, the smaller the diameter.)

The health authority explains that the larger needle is necessary for reaching the desired tissue: most often the deltoid muscle in the arm. This helps "to provide an optimal immune response and reduce the likelihood of injection-site reactions," the CDC says. And for more vaccine news, You're More Likely to Get COVID After Vaccination If You're Over This Age.

Women over 200 pounds and men over 260 pounds will get the largest needles.

The recommended needle size again increases for men over 260 pounds and women over 200 pounds. The CDC says that most people of this weight will require a one-and-a-half-inch needle to reach the muscle's inner tissue. This allows for intramuscular administration, which requires deeper access than subcutaneous injections that merely pierce the skin.

The good news if you need a needle of this size? "Use of longer needles has been associated with less redness or swelling than occurs with shorter needles because of injection into deeper muscle mass," says the CDC.

Don't worry if your vaccine administrator uses a shorter needle for your shot.

During a recent interview with an Ohio-based ABC news affiliate, Steven Feagins, MD, chief clinical officer at Mercy Health in Cincinnati, explained that smaller needles are considered typical for COVID vaccinations, as well. "Normally, we use half-inch needles," he said of his own team, also acknowledging that higher weight individuals are likely to receive larger needles.

In a footnote to the CDC's recommendations, the organization also states that individuals under 132 pounds may be able to use a 5/8-inch needle, noting that "skin must be stretched tightly and subcutaneous tissues must not be bunched" to avoid hitting bone during administration of the vaccine. And for more on vaccinations, There's a 50 Percent Chance You'll Make This Mistake When Getting Vaccinated.