Health & Fitness

Tackling coronavirus vaccine side effects


A nurse injects Covid 19 Vaccine to a traveller at the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Miritini Station in Mombasa on 14th October 2021. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG


  • Health experts note that people can minimise vaccine side effects by getting plenty of rest and good sleep before the vaccine.
  • For those with sore or swelling arms after the jab, applying a cold compress or ice pack at the injection site is recommended.

Rhoda in her thirties, is preparing to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. She has been reluctant to get the jab owing to the anti-vaccine messages that have been doing the rounds on social media.

"People were linking it to many bad things and that really scared me. But with time, I began learning of its benefits from the right sources. I have also interacted with many people who have taken the vaccine and they are still alive," she notes.

Despite the good health of people who have taken the vaccine, some usually experience certain uncomfortable symptoms such as arm pain, tiredness, headaches, chills, nausea, low-grade fever and minor swelling or redness near the injection site.

"I don't know how serious my symptoms will be or whether or not I will suffer from the side-effects of the vaccine. And this is worrying me," says Rhoda.

She is among the many individuals keen on receiving the vaccine yet anxious about the side effects or how their bodies will react to it.

Health experts note that people can minimise these vaccine side effects by getting plenty of rest and good sleep before the vaccine.

If possible, they note that taking time off to relax and rest for about two days after the jab is also helpful; especially for those receiving their second vaccine dose which tends to be associated with more side effects.

For those with sore or swelling arms after the jab, applying a cold compress or ice pack at the injection site is recommended. This can help ease further swelling or possible aches.

Light exercises that make use of the upper body also come in handy, such as moving the injected arm at the shoulder frequently. This prevents further soreness or pain. Generally, doctors urge people to strive to stay mobile instead of just lying down over long periods after the jab.

Sometimes, despite adhering to these recommendations, people may still suffer from body aches and fevers once they have been vaccinated. In such cases, over-the-counter painkillers or fever control drugs can help address the challenge.

Aside from these interventions, a new study published in the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics journal notes that vaccine side effects fears maybe ‘all be in the head.’

According to the study, how much people pay attention to side effect fears that they hear from others, may predict how poorly they are likely to feel post-vaccine.

The new study, which was conducted by researchers from The University of Toledo in the US, detailed for the first time, a link between the side effects people expected from the Covid-19 vaccines and those they actually experienced.

“It’s important to see how psychological variables may be correlated to how people respond to these vaccines,” said Dr Andrew Geers, lead author of the study and professor in the Department of Psychology at Toledo University.

“Our research clearly shows that people who expected symptoms like headaches, fatigue or pain at the injection site were much more likely to experience those side effects than those who did not anticipate them.”

Geers specialises in the study of social psychology theory within health and medical contexts, including the psychology of drug side effects.

He noted that while research on how psychosocial factors can impact the success or side effects of a given treatment has been done, none of those studies focused on Covid-19 specifically.

Geers and his colleagues sought to address this challenge and fill the knowledge gap through their study.

During the research period, they distributed a survey asking unvaccinated adults in the US about their expectations for seven common vaccine side effects that had been widely publicised by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These included pain at the injection site, fever, chills, headache, joint pain, nausea and fatigue.

The survey also collected socio-demographic information and assessed symptoms of depression and general worry about the pandemic among the 551 participants.

Once the participants had received their vaccine, the researchers followed them up, to inquire about the side effects they had experienced over a three-month period.

“We found a clear link between what people expected and what they experienced,” said Kelly Clemens, a co-author of the study and doctoral student studying experimental psychology at Toledo University.

“Those psychological factors are predictive over and above the other factors that we knew were involved in predicting side effects, such as the specific vaccine someone received, their age or whether they previously had Covid-19.”

In addition to helping to explain why some people experienced more severe symptoms of vaccine side effects, the researchers note that the study could also provide important clues for overcoming some of the lingering vaccine hesitancy challenges — both for first-timers who are worried about side effects and those who become eligible for a booster dose but do not want to go through the ordeal again.

“This really shows the power of expectations and beliefs, even in something that we know is very physical,” Geers said.

“It appears that the effect that comes out of the vaccine is being shaped by psychology — by expectations and worry. If we’re able to reframe and think about side effects differently, it might reduce the experience of side effects.”

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