There's one thing you should avoid doing on the day you get your COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control&Prevention says: Leaving the vaccination site without waiting 15 to 30 minutes after your shot. This is necessary to see whether you have an immediate allergic reaction to the vaccine. If you do, medical personnel at the vaccination site can treat it and call for emergency care. Read on to find out why—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Allergic reactions uncommon but stay just in case
Everyone should wait at the site 15 minutes after their shot, the CDC says. If you have a history of severe allergic reactions or an immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine, you should wait half an hour.
Severe allergic reactions to the vaccine can include anaphylaxis (a swelling of the mouth and throat) that can be life-threatening.
Thankfully, severe reactions are extremely rare. In the United States through Jan. 24, there were 50 reported cases of anaphylaxis among 9,943,247 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That works out to 5 cases of anaphylaxis per million doses administered. For the Moderna vaccine, there were 21 reported cases of anaphylaxis out of 7,581,429 doses—2.8 cases of anaphylaxis per million doses.
Some people might experience a non-severe allergic reaction to the shot, which the CDC defines as an allergic reaction that doesn't require medical attention. "CDC has also learned of reports that some people have experienced non-severe allergic reactions within 4 hours after getting vaccinated (known as immediate allergic reactions), such as hives, swelling, and wheezing (respiratory distress)," the agency says.
People who have severe or non-severe allergic reactions to the vaccine should avoid getting a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shots. (The newly approved Johnson&Johnson vaccine is just one dose.)
An allergic reaction is different than "COVID arm," a red, itchy, swollen, or painful rash at the site of the shot. It can begin a few days to more than a week after the initial vaccination, the CDC says. If it's itchy or painful, you can take an antihistamine or an over-the-counter pain reliever. COVID arm shouldn't prevent you from getting your second dose.
How to survive this pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.