There’s a difference between feeling sick and being sick and saying “that’s sick.”
Yes, the currently available Covid-19 vaccines can have side effects. Yes, these side effects can include fever, chills, nausea, fatigue, and headaches. Yes, such symptoms can feel like the flu. Yes, they can affect your daily activities like doing chores, Zooming while you are wearing pants, and Zooming while you are not wearing pants.
After all, getting Covid-19 vaccines is not like eating avocado toast, which incidentally can cause joy, happiness, and a desire to sing the song “Neverending Story.” The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines aim to expose you to parts of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with an emphasis on the word “parts.” The vaccines consist of mRNA, which isn’t like mmmBop but instead is short for messenger mRNA. This messenger mRNA serves as blueprints that instruct cells in your body to produce the spike proteins that cover the surface of the Covid-19 coronavirus. Recall that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) looks like a spiky massage ball, except that you don’t want a massage with these balls.
Unless you are a gigantic Covid-19 coronavirus (and if you are, get the bleep away), your body will not be used to seeing this spike protein. When your cells start producing the spike protein from the mRNA in the vaccines, your immune system will probably say, “oh, hell no,” and then mount a response against these spike proteins. This can include releasing chemicals and mobilizing cells that may give you various flu-like symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website describes such symptoms as “normal signs that your body is building protection.”
Your reaction to the vaccine can be like a reaction to a Nickelback song. Side effects can vary from person to person. You may tolerate vaccination with no noticeable side effects. Or you may react in different ways. Your reaction to the first dose may be different from the second dose of the vaccine:
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Nevertheless, in general, such symptoms should resolve within a few days. Call your doctor if either the vaccine or the Nickelback song “Rockstar” causes symptoms that persist beyond a few days. Something else may be going on besides standard Covid-19 vaccine side effects.
Remember that such standard vaccine side effects would not be Covid-19. They would not be the flu either. They wouldn’t even be Bieber fever, unless you happen to be listening to the song “Baby” at the same time. Again they are likely signs that your immune system is reacting to what the vaccine is getting your cells to produce.
To actually get Covid-19, you need, drum roll, please, the Covid-19 coronavirus. The whole virus, not just part of the virus. And this virus needs to be live to infect you. You don’t have Donald Trump if you just have his hair. Similarly, you don’t have the virus when you simply have the spike protein. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COvid-19 vaccines do not contain the live SARS-CoV2. Period.
So again, just because you feel a little sick, doesn’t mean you are sick. Just because you have chills doesn’t mean they are multiplying and you are losing control, in the words of John Travolta from the movie Grease. Just because you have a Saturday night fever doesn’t mean that you are infected with a virus. Nevertheless, some have posted messages on social media claiming that the Covid-19 vaccines have made them sick with Covid-19.
Another set of side effects that may occur are more local side effects. In this case, local side effects doesn’t mean those that just occur in your home town. They mean specifically side effects that emerge around your injection site, the injection site on your body. For example:
This is not surprising since, you are sticking a needle into a body part, which should be your upper arm. (Note if someone tells you to roll down your pants to get the Covid-19 vaccine, tell them butt no.) The injection site may feel painful or sore for a little while. It may become red and swollen. All of these changes should be temporary unless for some reason you got a tattoo at the same time, which is not a good idea. Call your doctor if any of these injection site symptoms get worse after 24 hours.
Of course, you want to make sure that you aren’t having a significant allergic reaction to the vaccine. Severe allergic reactions are not very common. I have already covered for Forbes the rate of such reactions for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines. If you think you may be having an allergic reaction, contact your doctor.
An allergic reaction is not the same as standard vaccine side effects. While allergic reactions may be uncommon, it’s not unusual to have symptoms such as a fever, chills, nausea, fatigue, and headaches for a little while after getting vaccinated. Of course, there is the possibility that you got another separate unrelated infection or problem such as the flu by coincidence around the same time that you got the vaccination. After all, you can get a vaccine, get infected by someone else, listen to the song “Baby,” and eat avocado toast all within the same week. So if you get chills, you may not be able to immediately tell the cause. That’s why you should contact your doctor if you symptoms are more severe or last for longer than a few days.
Could the Covid-19 vaccines lead to even more severe side effects? Possibly. So far, major complications seem quite rare. Indeed, every product has the risk of more severe problems. That’s why it will be important to continue to track those who have been vaccinated and what problems may arise. However, if you are just having chills, a fever, and other flu-like symptoms for a few days, you may just feel sick without really being sick.