Somewhat in the same vein as folks who will never forget where they were when they heard JFK died, I’ll never forget where I was when I received the text saying I could make an appointment to get the COVID vaccine. It was 7:30 p.m. on a Friday, and I had just sat down to dinner with my husband and 3-year-old on our couch — our Friday night ritual. With my wine glass in hand (another Friday night ritual), I of course immediately called the number and made the appointment, full of hope and joy. And then I searched for how to prepare for the COVID vaccine.
With all of the news out there about the vaccine, there’s a lot to consider. But Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health, tells Romper that the mRNA vaccines are 95% effective at preventing “symptomatic COVID-19” and are likely to decrease the spread. “10 to 14 days after the first dose of either of the mRNA vaccines, protection is estimated to be up to 85%. The second dose is thought to mainly provide additional longer lasting protection,” he says. “14 days after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 is about 66%, however, it has been found to be 93% effective in preventing hospitalization.”
With stats like that, it’s a no brainer that vaccination is important. Once you’ve finally been accepted, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself.
When you do get vaccinated, each person can have a range of symptoms, says Braunstein. “After either the first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, that includes more common symptoms such as mild arm soreness, low grade fever, headache or body aches, and chills, as well as very rare events such as anaphylaxis or auto immune conditions. We know that with the mRNA vaccines, about 80 to 90% will have at least one local or systemic symptom following vaccination.”
Keep Your Schedule Free
And this is why it’s important to prepare. Braunstein says, “I strongly recommend not scheduling work or social events the following day. Symptoms typically begin about 12 hours after the dose, and continue for 12 to 24 hours, and are often severe enough that you just want to recover in the comfort of your home.”
Additionally, it’s highly recommended not to perform any strenuous exercise beforehand, according to WebMD. A CBS article reported that because these vaccines are administered in the muscle to flow into your bloodstream, increased blood flow beforehand to that muscle could make the vaccine “come out” of the muscle faster than it was designed to.
Take A Mild Pain Medication & Hydrate
Shaili Gandhi, PharmD, and VP of Formulary Operations at SingleCare, recommends taking a mild pain medication, like Motrin, before you leave home to ease any pain following the shot. Per WebMD, taking NSAIDs will not interfere with the immune response of the vaccine.
UC Health says to wear loose-fitting clothing to get vaccinated so that the clinician can easily access the deltoid muscle (big shoulder muscle), which is where they administer the vaccine. The website also suggested eating before getting vaccinated to prevent the possibility of fainting, and drinking plenty of water and definitely not alcohol. “Drinking too much alcohol can lead to dehydration and a hangover. Do not place yourself in a position to be fighting a hangover and possible side effects from the second shot,” the website noted.
“Make sure you are very well hydrated for at least 24 hours before and after,” says Braunstein. “You may lose fluids from fever, sweating, nausea or appetite loss, and pre-hydrating will provide the buffer you need to avoid becoming dehydrated.”
Get Plenty Of Sleep & Have Help On Hand If You’re Caring For Children
And most importantly, get a good night’s sleep before the big day, according to WebMD. I can attest to this for sure. After I was vaccinated, by the time I got home 45 minutes later, I was wiped out. I was really exhausted the entire evening and next two days after being vaccinated. (But remember, everyone is different.) In fact, some people are recommending that if you are in a two-parent household, you should stagger your vaccination dates with your partner so that both of you aren’t feeling under-the-weather with kids at home. If you don’t have a partner at home, enlist the help of a friend or family member to step in as caregiver if you find yourself too exhausted.
How To Mentally Prepare For The COVID Vaccine
If you have a fear of needles, Gandhi tells Romper to focus on the fact that you’re getting the vaccine not only to protect yourself, but others in your communities as well. Additionally, she says you can ease anxiety by bringing headphones to listen to while getting vaccinated, or plan on having a conversation with the health care professional administering the vaccine.
“Know that needles come in various sizes, and the smallest one is being used to effectively administer the dose. Remember that the quick pinch you’ll feel when getting vaccinated is so worth avoiding the anxiety of potentially getting or passing along COVID,” Gandhi says.
What You Cannot Prepare For
All that is to say, here is what I was not prepared for: The intense overwhelming feeling I had when I pulled into the parking lot of the vaccine hub. Feeling the sense of the enormity of it all. I’m getting vaccinated, during a pandemic, and this is making history. I obviously knew we were in a pandemic, and I even had COVID last year, but the reality of the pandemic suddenly hit me. I am a part of making history.
Not only that, but I wasn’t prepared for how end-of-the-world, sci-fi movie it all felt. When I arrived, we were all put into lines by people wearing hazmat suits and plastic face shields, and then we were sorted into groups with numbers. When our numbers were called, we were lined up by the hazmat people and walked to a second check-in area as they checked to see if we were registered and fit the criteria to receive the vaccine.
Then we were told to wait in yet another line next to a long line of cubicles that read “Pfizer” on each one, and each space was equipped with two clocks — one set for the exact time and one set for five minutes fast, and were labeled so people could keep up with the time getting patients through the vaccine line, as well as the “observation” period you have after the shot. There was also a nurse administering the vaccine, and another nurse filling out those little cards you see everyone holding in their COVID vaccine selfies. I was also not prepared for how overwhelmed I felt after receiving the vaccine. I let out an audible sigh, and my nurse asked me if that was a sigh of relief. I could barely get the word, “Yes,” out before I started to weep. The nurse began to weep, too, and said, “Truly, thank you for getting vaccinated today. Thank you.”
While you can prepare physically for the vaccine somewhat, it is a lot to take mentally, at least for me. And there’s no preparing for how relieved, vindicated, thankful, and elated you’ll feel after receiving it.
Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health.
Shaili Gandhi, PharmD and VP of Formulary Operations at SingleCare.