Getting the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine can be a real pain in the arm. “Wow, that really hurt!” remembers Alice León, 44, an underwriter in Sandy. “Like that of a wasp [sting] that lingers.”
“After nine hours, my arm hurt a lot,” said Lisa Haskell, 54, of Salt Lake City. “By the next morning, the pain was gone.”
Arm soreness was the most common first-dose aftereffect listed by readers who responded to a request from The Salt Lake Tribune to describe their vaccine experience, which reflects national statistics for the side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines.
In smaller numbers, readers described fatigue and headaches. Some said they felt nothing at all.
But Christine Morr, 66, an architect in Park City, got hit with the full combo platter. “I had neck and shoulder stiffness the same day, woke up about 2 a.m. with fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea, and a bad headache,” she wrote.
Still, Morr added that she “was fine 24 hours after the shot, though.”
And most of the Tribune’s respondents said the same thing: When they felt side effects from the first dose, the symptoms dissipated within 24 to 48 hours. Only nine of the 148 readers in the informal survey said their pain or illness lasted longer.
As Utah opens vaccinations to all adults on March 24, not everyone will feel a reaction to the vaccine. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that symptoms that people do feel “are normal signs that your body is building protection” against the coronavirus.
The federal agency has not reported a significant difference in side effects among the three approved vaccine brands — the two-shot Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna versions, and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
What might I feel after a first dose?
The most common aftereffect nationally is pain at the site of the injection, reported by 68% of Americans who have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data collected by the CDC via its v-safe smartphone app. The CDC’s findings were reported in the journal Nature.
Tiredness and headaches, the next most common reactions, were cited by less than a third of first-dose recipients on the app. And in even smaller numbers, they reported muscle pain, fever, joint pain, chills, nausea and swelling.
Chet Johnson, an 81-year-old retiree in Millcreek, was one of the Tribune readers who said he felt nothing at all. “Maybe I’m healthier than I thought,” he quipped.
Side effects appear to be less common in older adults, doctors have noticed. And overall, only a small percentage of people who get the vaccine feel significant aftereffects, said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the infectious diseases division at University of Utah Health.
For those who do experience them, he said, it “just means that your body’s immune system is recognizing something foreign and saying, ‘Hey, look, we have to get rid of this,’ or, ‘We have to figure out how to deal with this.”
Of the 148 readers who responded to the Tribune’s request, 105 of them reported they felt soreness in the arm where they got the shot.
“My arm felt like I got punched real hard,” said Bethany Beggs, 25, a school psychologist in Sandy. Beggs added that she “took a pretty long nap the day after the shot.”
One in five readers said they felt tired after getting the first shot; often, the fatigue accompanied the arm soreness.
Rachael Coonradt, 52, who lives in Sandy, said she had “the second-worse headache of my life the next day.” Headaches were reported by 26% of those in the CDC’s sampling, with about 17% saying they suffered muscle pain after getting the first dose.
Some Tribune readers reported experiencing fever, chills, joint pain, nausea or swelling — all side effects reported at 7% in the CDC study.
The happiest side effect
Retired Salt Lake City teacher Doreen McGlade, 64, said she “had no adverse effects after my first dose.”
Emotionally, she added, “I am very encouraged and excited that there is a timeline for my second dose and the opportunity to safely see my 89-year-old mother.” McGlade’s mom, she added, received both doses some time ago, with no ill effects.
Many Tribune readers said they felt that same less tangible side effect, described by Miranda Perez, 39, a behavioral assistant at an elementary school in Sandy: “Feelings of jubilation and relief.”
Haskell, in Salt Lake City, echoed that sentiment. “I feel like a weight is slowly being lifted from me, and from the world,” she said.
Madeleine Fulford, 58, a training developer who lives in Salt Lake City, said she and her husband went to the Salt Palace Convention Center on a recent Saturday to get their vaccinations — and came back with nothing more serious than a sore arm.
“The next day was a beautiful spring day,” Fulford said, “and we were able to enjoy it even more knowing that we were now one step closer to being able to safely go back to normal.”