Public health officials explain why some people experience worse side effects after 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 7:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Some people who get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 don’t notice any side effects, but others report experiencing a more intense immune response after receiving their second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

“Not everyone has stronger side effects with a second vaccine, but some people do,” said Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Rabinowitz said the side effects can include muscle aches, headaches, nausea and a low-grade fever, and usually only last for one to three days after the injection.

“By your second dose, your immune system has already seen the spike proteins that these vaccines produce, and so your immune system is already kind of revved up and primed to notice it,” she explained. “So when you get your second vaccine, many people have kind of a bit of an exaggerated response to the known side effects from the vaccinations.”

But health officials say everyone’s experience is unique, including their own.

“I got mine after working an overnight shift,” said Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. “I then took a nap and I woke up and I was really tired and I had a headache, so I thought that maybe that was it, and then I drink a cup of coffee and it was gone, and that was my entire experience of my second dose of vaccine.”

Kelsey Pistotnik with the Alaska Immunization Program said she had a more difficult experience when she got her second shot.

“I got my second dose at about one o’clock in the afternoon and I woke up at 1 a.m. and I felt awful,” she said. “I had a terrible headache, muscle aches, chills, and just kind of generally felt like I got hit by a truck. I did not feel well at all. 12 hours later, I felt great.”

She said the side effects, while more intense, cleared up quickly.

“It was pretty unbelievable how quickly I went from not feeling well to then feeling better,” Pistotnik said.

For Rabinowitz, the experience after her second dose was better than her first, which she said was rough.

“Similar to Kelsey, about six hours later I felt pretty rotten, muscle aches, headache, took some ibuprofen and coffee, and by the morning I felt fine,” she said. “With my second dose, I just had a very mild headache, didn’t take anything and it went away in a couple hours.”

Dr. Coleman Cutchins said he got his second dose early in the morning before volunteering at a vaccine clinic, and started to notice he was feeling different in the evening.

“I felt like, kind of the way you feel like that day when you think you might be about to get sick,” he said. “And then the next day I was fine.”

Meanwhile, as is the case for many people, Tessa Walker Linderman, who is co-lead of the state’s vaccine task force, said she did not experience any side effects.

“I had absolutely no issues at my first or second and I was worried I got the placebo, but I know I really got the real thing,” she said.

Walker Linderman noted that she and Pistotnik got their vaccine around the same time, but had vastly different experiences.

“You can see the whole spectrum that, you know, you can go from having no reaction to, you know, a significant reaction, but still you know that within a matter of hours you’re back to normal,” she said.

While experiences with the vaccine will vary, health officials say when people choose to get vaccinated, sharing their experience with friends and family members can help them feel more comfortable getting vaccinated too.

“Sharing personal stories helps other people and kind of normalizing it,” Rabinowitz said.

According to the state, more than one in three Alaskans aged 16 and older — just over 35% — have had at least one dose of a COVID 19 vaccine.

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