I have gotten several requests for info about how to prepare yourself for a COVID-19 vaccine — especially for the possibility of a minor negative reaction. This is a little off-topic from what I normally write about, but I have compiled a list of what I did, as well as the many great ideas that my friends shared with me.
First, a few disclaimers:
1. I am not a doctor, and this post should not be taken as medical advice.
2. I have only gotten my first dose of the vaccine, and I seem to be tolerating it fairly well so far. Is that because I’ve been doing what I described below? Did I just get lucky? Or both? I don’t know. Will I experience worse symptoms later? I don’t know.
Normally, I’d wait until I was fully through this experience in order to write about it, but lots of people are getting vaccinated now, so I don’t want to delay posting information that might help somebody. If anything changes, I will update this piece.
3. Every body is different. People’s reactions to the vaccine have varied widely. Some people have no side effects. For other people, the side effects can be pretty awful — but compared to the horrible things the virus or its after-effects can do to a body, I still think the vaccine is a good idea. Even the person I know who had the most severe reaction (someone with multiple serious autoimmune disorders) to the vaccine is still glad they got it — because, given their health conditions, they might not survive getting COVID.
Another friend who had a rough time with the second dose of the vaccine accurately described their experience as the process as “making antibodies.” That’s a good thing for us to remember — some of the temporary symptoms we experience are the result of our bodies working hard to make antibodies. This is how we build up immunity to the virus.
4. In this post, I’m not going to debate whether COVID-19 is real, or whether the vaccine is safe/a good idea. The idea that COVID-19 is not real is a slap in the face to all of us who who have lost loved ones to this disease. As for vaccine safety, that is a real and legitimate concern. I have done extensive research, and will make a separate post with links to some resources I have found that convinced me this was safe. For now, this article on holistic vaccine support by Dr. Diana Quinn is probably one of the best I’ve found on this topic.
So, how can we prepare ourselves to get the vaccine?
These were the top tips that I found helpful:
1. Drink a LOT more fluids than normal. This one really helped me, and I highly recommend it. Herbal tea, water, coconut water — anything hydrating. (Pop/soda, coffee, and caffeinated tea are dehydrating.)
2. Be prepared for the possibility that you could feel sick and/or tired for a few days. Have the necessary supplies on hand to treat your symptoms, and prepare food for yourself in advance.
3. Plan for some time off work/school, if possible. Especially for the second shot — people seem to need more rest/recovery time after dose #2.
4. Exercise your arm as much as you are able, in the first 12 hours after your shot, to minimize pain at the injection site. Gentle stretching won’t do much, but heavier, weight-bearing exercise seems to help.
I will give more details on this below. But first, I wanted to share a personal story from a friend. Stefanie (Diné) gave me a great write-up of her vaccination experience, how she prepared for it, and what she wished she’d done differently. I am sharing it here with her permission:
First shot Pfizer – what I did – not a whole lot, honestly. I worked my arm after I received the shot the same day. I also talked it over with the person administering the shot and he helped me decide to get the injection in my non-sleeping arm, which in hindsight, was the best advice I was ever given.
What I wish I had done – prepare for the soreness the next day. The day of the vaccine my arm was fine, but when I woke up the next day it was a brick. Luckily I live with my husband and he was able to reach high up things for me, but it was an effort to move it or do other tasks, like drive.
Second shot for Pfizer – what I did – I tried to sleep eat and drink water for the week leading up to it to make sure my immune response was in the best shape and my body wasn’t stressed from other factors. I cut out alcohol, I cut down on red meat, I cut down my sugars, I went all out to reduce inflammation.
I also prepared to be sick. I’ve had family members my age [30s] have some terrible side effects. I did see a community health center presentation that said they were seeing a trend where people younger than 55 had more side effects than those over. So I took the next day off, got some of my favorite sick foods, and pulled out an extra blanket in case I got the chills (a family member and my physical therapist had that reaction).
Luckily, I did not have any of those reactions. Instead I was just TIRED. I could not stay awake for more than two hours at a time the day after. Two days out I was able to get back to work, but at the end of the day I was completely zonked. What I wish I had done – prep just a little more for the fatigue.
One more thing – before my second shot I communicated a lot with people I interact with to set boundaries and expectations. I told my boss and a few close colleagues that I was going to be completely unavailable for one to maybe two days, so to schedule meetings and work deadlines around that. I also had conversations with my husband about my fears, my concerns, and my expectations of what I may or may not need if I experience side effects. That helped prep the household. And then I had my cheer leading friends, which is always just nice. “
The following tips that friends shared with me may not be possible for everyone. Some of them require financial resources, a certain family/living situation, a flexible job/school arrangement, or an able body that not all of us have. So take what you can, and leave the rest.
Items to have on hand:
-Beverages with electrolytes (like coconut water or Gatorade)
-Herbal Tea (suggestions below!)
-Plenty of water
-Prepared meals (make a big crockpot of food, buy microwave meals, etc)
-Over-the-counter medication for pain, fever, & inflammation (such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, a combination of both)
-Epsom salts for a bath
-Antihistamine allergy medication (if you tend to have strong allergic reactions)
Planning Ahead — Some Ideas:
-The process of getting the vaccine may take longer than you think — be prepared to wait. Some people are spending hours in line. If you’re in a cold climate and waiting in your car, make sure you have enough gas in your tank. And you won’t be able to leave right after your shot — if you have allergies, they’ll observe you for 30 minutes afterwards. And if you don’t, they’ll observe you for 15 minutes before you can leave.
-Take one (or several) day(s) off of work or school. People (especially younger people) tend to need more recovery time after the second dose — so if you can, take more time off after that one.
-Childcare: Arrange for someone else to watch your kids the next day, so you can rest.
-Get ahead on your paperwork, job, or homework.
-Make sure you have enough food and supplies for yourself, your kids, and your pets, so you won’t have to go out the next day.
-Put any hard-to-reach items in an easier-to-reach place, in case you have too much arm pain to reach high up after the vaccine.
-If you live alone, arrange for someone to check in on you.
Ideas for minimizing pain at the injection site:
-Pain in your arm seems to be the most common vaccine side effect, so I would expect some pain. They’ll let you choose which arm to get vaccinated in. Two things to consider: which side is your dominant hand/arm, and whether you sleep on one side.
-One elder told me that icing her arm made it hurt less.
-An acupuncturist suggested a heating pad on the arm could help, too.
-Putting a couple drops of an anti-inflammatory tincture onto my skin around the injection site seemed to help me a bit.
-Some people have suggested working out the muscle, starting right after you get the shot, to keep the pain from getting too bad. I did 10 push-ups right when I get home, and did another set every few hours when it was starting to hurt. Now, 36 hours later, it hurts much less than other vaccines I’ve had. In fact, my arm hurts hurts less than my knee does, from kneeling on a tile floor for 2 minutes that same day. But I can’t say whether any of this is scientifically valid or not.
[Update 3/31/21, after shot #2: Exercising definitely seemed to make a difference for both shots. I did a lot of hard physical work in the garden in the hours following shot #2, and had minimal pain the next day. A friend of mine was having pain after her shot and found that gentle stretching didn’t do much — but then she vacuumed her whole apartment, and her arm felt much better after. So I think doing more vigorous/weight-bearing exercise is what makes the difference.]
-Someone else suggested rubbing your arm at the injection site, and doing exercise to keep it moving.
What about treating my vaccine side effects with plant medicines?
The two most common symptoms seem to be pain/inflammation, and fever. Below, you’ll find a list for each. As usual, you don’t need everything on the list — one or two from each category should be more than enough. Some of these plants do double duty, and are on both lists.
The other symptoms that people have reported, besides pain/inflammation and fever, are so varied that I am not going to try to address them in this post.
Plant medicines for Pain and Inflammation that can help:
-I have been drinking a spicy Čhoȟwáŋžiča / Willow [Salix species] bark tea blend with cinnamon (both herbs are anti-inflammatory), and a few other spices. Make your own blend, according to your personal needs.
-I have been using a Meadowsweet tincture (taking it internally, and also applying a drop to the injection site).
-I haven’t needed it, but I have a stronger anti-inflammatory Wáǧačhaŋ / Cottonwood bud tincture prepared.
-Other herbs that could work: Prickly Ash (tincture or topical), Arnica (topical), Turmeric (internal), Garlic (internal), Rosemary (internal), Black pepper (internal).
Plant medicines for Reducing Fever that can help:
–Čhoȟwáŋžiča / Willow (Salix species) Bark as a tea (any willow species)
–Wáǧačhaŋ/Cottonwood (Populus species) inner bark as a tea, or buds as a tincture
–Čheyáka / Mint (Mentha arvensis) leaves as a tea
-Waštémna / Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) flowers or leaves as a tea
–Igmú tȟačhéyaka / Catmint (Nepeta cataria) leaves as a tea
–Siŋkpȟé tȟawóte / Wiike / Bitterroot / Sweet Flag / Acorus Calamus root as a tea
–Waȟčá pȟepȟéla / Boneset / Eupatorium species leaves and flowers as a tea
But wait…aren’t we supposed to avoid anti-inflammatories with this vaccine?
There’s a lot of mixed messaging out there about this. The general recommendation seems to be to avoid taking anti-inflammatories before your shot. There is confusion about whether it’s ok to take them after your shot. This article explains the recommendation for avoiding them before you get the vaccine.
Marc Strong (Sičháŋǧu Lakota), a scientist who has read and interpreted a lot of the available research on this issue, explained to me,
“The CDC is recommending that you not take anti-inflammatory meds before getting the COVID vaccine. There is a concern that your immune response will be slightly suppressed if you do. Though there isn’t a lot of evidence that this happens. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. HOWEVER, the CDC says that if you develop symptoms after the vaccine, it’s fine [to take anti-inflammatories]. Your immune system has already started a response and is making the antibodies already.”
I hope this information is useful. Please feel free to comment or contact me if you see any errors, or have any questions.
Thank you for getting vaccinated, and doing your part to protect our communities and end this pandemic!
Taŋyáŋ úŋ wo — be well!