Getting Clear on Common Covid Vaccine Side FX

Why The Side Effects From The Vaccine Are Better Than Getting Covid

Conversations and Curbsides - a Podcast between DoctorsDr. Magda Sobieszczyk is the Chief of Infectious Diseases at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Sobieszczyk is a clinical virologist and the principal investigator of the NIH-funded Columbia Collaborative Clinical Trials Unit which has been advancing the science of HIV and emerging infections like SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Sobieszczyk joined Dr. Hyesoo Lowe on an episode of the Columbia Surgery Podcast Series: Conversations & Curbsides. The two doctors clarified some common confusions about side effects that can result from the Covid vaccine. 

The following is a transcription of the discussion, and is lightly edited for context and clarity.

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Dr. Hyesoo Lowe:

I'm delighted to be joined today by Dr. Magda Sobieszczyk, professor and chief of the Infectious Disease Division here at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Thanks for talking to us today.

Dr. Magdalena Sobieszczyk:

Great. Thank you so much for having me.

Vaccine Side Effects Overview

Dr. Hyesoo Lowe:

One reason for vaccine hesitancy, whether it be the flu shot, the COVID booster, is sometimes people feel sick for a day or two, and they'd rather not feel sick on those days when they get the vaccine. Should that give people pause before they take a vaccine? 

Dr. Magdalena Sobieszczyk:

You’re pointing out the common side effects from the vaccine. They can include pain and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headache, feeling tired, and even having a mild fever. 

And what's happening essentially is that the body's immune system is reacting to this new information that it is getting from the vaccine. And typically, I say when people are experiencing symptoms after a vaccine, it could be a sign that their antibodies are increasing. Their T-cells are kind of acting up and getting primed to fight the disease when they see the virus.

Not everybody gets these side effects. Typically, younger people get them a little bit more often than older people. And maybe that's because as you get older, your immune system is just a little bit quieter, not as robust or as active.

At the same time, I tell my patients, "Do not worry if you don't have the pain, the fatigue, the fever. It doesn't mean that the vaccine is not doing anything. Everybody's immune system is different, and everybody reacts differently to the vaccine.

But I would say, "Do not worry if you're getting these reactions because it just means your immune system is doing something."

Dr. Hyesoo Lowe:

Do people have to be feeling 100% before getting the vaccine? Should not feeling well be a reason to delay or skip taking the vaccine, at the risk of getting the actual illness?

Dr. Magdalena Sobieszczyk:

I tell my patients that if you are about to go and get a flu shot or a COVID test and you're not feeling well, you should actually make sure that you get tested for COVID and for the flu just in case you got exposed and you are developing COVID and the flu.

Similarly, because there's a lot going on in your life, you may not be feeling topnotch. If you want to just take a day and rest up and go and take your vaccine when you're feeling better, that's kind of a general good rule of thumb to do.

I would not tell people to delay their vaccine for too, too long, but take a day or so to get some rest. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, plenty of fluids. If you're feeling sick, get tested and go and take the vaccines.

Side Effects Vs. Covid

Dr. Hyesoo Lowe:

What would you say to somebody who thinks, "Well, if I'm going to feel sick from the vaccine itself, maybe I'll just take my chances. And if I get COVID, maybe it won't be so bad"?

Dr. Magdalena Sobieszczyk:

I always tell my patients, "The vaccine is not 100% effective in protecting you from mild illness, but it's protecting people from severe disease and from complications.

It also shortens the duration of infection if you do get infected, so you are less likely to spread it around and pass it to other people who are really more vulnerable than you may be, and who would be really incredibly impacted by COVID.

There's also some data to suggest that the vaccine may, as it's preventing severe illness, also protect people from “long COVID,” from getting the complication. It's protecting you from getting ill, and maybe preventing the development of long COVID, which we know is a real phenomenon.

Dr. Hyesoo Lowe:

And for those people who have said, "Well, I've had COVID a couple of times, and it wasn't that bad," is there any data to suggest that repetitive infections with COVID could lead to more complications?

Dr. Magdalena Sobieszczyk:

This is data that's still being gathered and collected as to whether getting infected over and over has some adverse effect on different body organs. We don't have all that information just yet, but it is probably the case that having repeated infections with COVID may lead to a higher risk of developing myocarditis, as I mentioned before, and other complications and lead to long COVID.

Vaccine Safety Data

Dr. Magdalena Sobieszczyk:

One thing I always discuss with my patients, because the question comes up, is the safety of vaccines and how safe they are.

I want to point out, and I tell my patients, that the CDC is collecting a lot of information on vaccine safety, both from clinical reports from large clinics and from tracking vaccine safety from insurance claims. And essentially, they've accumulated information from millions of people across the US about what their experience has been with COVID vaccines and if there are any safety signals. This is almost real-time data that's being accumulated.

I can highlight one aspect of this safety data that's been very reassuring to date, because millions of people, billions of people have received the vaccines. One question that sometimes comes up is about something called myocarditis, which was noticed early on. It's an inflammation essentially of the heart, and muscle around the heart.

It was an observation reported early by the CDC about a rare occurrence of myocarditis that happened often after the second injection of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID vaccines. And most of these myocarditis events happened in teens and in young adults. The majority of them were mild, and cleared up on their own without any issues. But they were noticed. They were again picked up by this surveillance system.

There are recent updates from the surveillance system that really have shown that the risk of this myocarditis overall is really, really quite, quite low and nothing compared to the risk of getting this myocarditis or inflammation of the heart after COVID infection.

So again, thanks to this massive amount of information that's been collected, we can now tell and say that any potential small risk of an adverse event from a vaccine is really completely balanced out by, and pales in comparison to, what would happen if people got COVID, again making us confident about the safety of these vaccines.

Dr. Hyesoo Lowe:

It's very helpful to know that. And I think nobody wants to go back to the time when too many people had the COVID infection. We all know what that led to, which was a lot of bad outcomes.

So now that a lot less people are getting Covid or the fact that it's much less severe in many cases are certainly steps in the right direction.


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