Which Arm Should You Choose For The COVID-19 Vaccine?

In several U.S. states, COVID-19 vaccine availability opened up this week to everyone ages 12 and up (via CNN). And according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the sooner we all get vaccinated, the sooner we can return to a more normal way of life. So, if you have been looking forward to finally taking that trip to Cabo or just want to be able to get a facial at your favorite spa, then you should sign up for an appointment.

The COVID-19 vaccine is completely safe and has gone through rigorous trials that were monitored by the CDC and FDA, before becoming available to the public (via John Hopkins Medicine). All you can really expect from the vaccine are a few mild to moderate side effects that come with your body trying to build an immune response, like a headache, soreness at the injection site, and possibly a fever. 

The one thing you need to do in preparation of the shot is to wear a short-sleeved shirt that is loose enough around the arms to be able to be rolled up, since the vaccine is administered to your deltoid muscle (via UC Health). According to Medicine Net, the deltoid is the large, triangle-shaped muscle that encompasses your shoulder and is essential in lifting and rotating motions. That's why it is important to consider which arm to get your COVID-19 shots in.

What to expect from the COVID-19 vaccine

UC Health suggests asking for the vaccine to be injected into your non-dominant arm. This way you can still freely use your dominant arm without reduced mobility from any possible soreness. The hospital also said it is worth considering what side of your body you sleep on if you are a side-sleeper. In that case, you would want to get the vaccine on the opposite side you prefer to sleep on to avoid putting pressure on the sore injection site. But UC Health states that either arm is acceptable.

Most people who received their COVID-19 vaccines reported to UC Health that they barely felt the injection. However, prepare for possible soreness at the injection site up to three days after getting the vaccine. The CDC reports that the second shot usually comes with more intense reactions than the first. So if you are getting your second shot, you can expect your arm to be just as sore, if not more, than your first shot. Additionally, the CDC cites pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site as common side effects from the vaccine. The agency recommends lightly exercising and moving your arm around, as well as applying a cool, damp washcloth to the sore area. 

Can you take painkillers before or after the vaccine?

While it may be tempting to preemptively take OTC painkillers/fever reducers like Tylenol or Advil, before getting the vaccine, but you should refrain from doing so. Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, told WebMD that the painkiller could "result in a decrease in antibody response." And that could affect the objective of getting your vaccine in the first place, which is to train your immune system to fight COVID-19. 

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told AP, "If you have a reaction afterwards and need something, take some acetaminophen." Schaffner states that the vaccine generates a strong immune response to the point that painkillers should not diminish the effectiveness of the vaccine significantly. If you are still experiencing redness or tenderness at the injection site, or if it gets worse, you should contact your doctor (via CDC). Make sure to discuss any questions you may have about the vaccine with your doctor or nurse when you go to take your shot.