In-Depth: COVID vaccine side effects -- separating fact from fiction

What, exactly, to expect after you get the vaccine
Posted at 6:02 AM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 13:39:35-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - It's been nearly two months since the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine started shipping across America. Now, as more people become eligible for the shot, many find it hard to get answers on what, exactly, they can expect when it comes to side effects.

"There are a lot of rumors out there. There are a lot of stories out there," says Dr. Susan Stone, the CEO of Sharp Coronado. "It's so important for us as medical professionals to make sure that we're communicating out the real facts and that we have an ongoing dialogue with our patients."

According to Sharp Healthcare, people who get the COVID-19 vaccine can expect soreness or pain at the injection site. Other side effects include body aches, fatigue, fever, headaches, and chills. Dr. Stone says all of this is normal, and people should not worry if it happens.

"Your body's building up an immune response," Dr. Stone says. "So having a little achy feeling is not unusual whatsoever and is not concerning at all."

Recently published CDC data shows how common each side effect is. The CDC has been letting people self-report their side effects through the "V-Safe" program. It's an app that allows people to register their shots and any symptoms.

The report lists the following side effects occurring within the first seven days after injection and the percentage of people who reported each to V-Safe:

  • Pain - 70.7%
  • Fatigue - 33.4%
  • Headache - 29.4%
  • Myalgia - 22.5%
  • Chills - 11.5%
  • Fever - 11.4%
  • Swelling - 11.0%
  • Joint Pain - 10.4%
  • Nausea - 8.9%

There have, however, been more severe reactions. The most common has been Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.

That same CDC report says there have been 71 total Anaphylaxis cases among the first 17.5 million vaccine doses administered.

San Diego saw a small cluster of Anaphlaxis cases at the Petco Park Super Station site, with six reactions on a single day in January. The site closed for a day, and site administrators held back that batch of vaccines until it was deemed safe.

Cathy Brennan was one of the people who had the reaction.

"My throat started to close up," she told ABC 10News. "I had my mask on and told my husband, 'Can you roll down the window? I'm having trouble breathing.'"

Despite the reaction, Brennan says she still believes the vaccine is safe.

Dr. Stone says all vaccine sites have protocols in place to monitor for similar reactions.

"We do keep people for 15 minutes after they've had their injection to make sure they're not having a problem," she says. "People with a history of reactions to vaccines are asked to stay 30 minutes."

Dr. Stone says if you have a history of reactions or worry you may have more severe side effects, you should only go to a vaccine site with medical personnel available to respond to any problems that arise.

Meanwhile, rumors on social media have connected the vaccine to several deaths, including MLB Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

The CDC says there are no confirmed cases of the vaccine causing any deaths.

The CDC's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System tracks every death within the first few days after a vaccine is given.

According to their most recent numbers, only 251 people have died shortly following the COVID-19 vaccine. But they say there is no evidence that the vaccine was the cause.

In 88% of the cases, the people who died already had severe medical problems. 66% of the people listed in the report were living in long-term care facilities.

Thirty-two people were already infected with COVID-19, and 21 others were in end of life hospice care.

Among many of the individual reports of death, attending physicians wrote that the vaccine had not caused the patient to pass.

Dr. Stone says those numbers prove the vaccine is safe. She adds the side effects, even if they're uncomfortable, are still better than getting COVID-19.

"None of us in the medical profession ever went into medicine to see that type of devastation," Dr. Stone says. "We're all committed to getting vaccines out there and bringing hope to the end of this pandemic."