It’s almost time to roll up your sleeve and get the COVID-19 vaccine. But before you head to your appointment, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared. From resting up to gathering documents, these eight tips tell you what to do and know to get ready for your shot(s).
1) Time it right. The COVID-19 vaccine should be spaced out with other vaccines you might need, mainly because there’s no data on its effectiveness when given right before or after other shots. The CDC recommends waiting at least 14 days before and after the COVID vaccine to get other vaccines, like the flu or shingles shot. (Most vaccination sites will ask you about recent vaccines.) “Some people are choosing to defer routine vaccines because they know they’re soon going to be a part of a group that’s eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine,” says Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician at One Medical in Phoenix. Also, if you have a history of reacting to vaccines, see if you can take the next day off work so you can rest at home.
2) Get familiar with the vaccine site. “The most important thing is to figure out the logistics,” says Dr. Linda Yancey, infectious disease specialist with Memorial Hermann hospital, a vaccine hub in Houston. If you’re going to a hospital or other facility you’re not familiar with, budget enough time to get there early and figure out where you’ll park, if you’re driving. If you want to bring a friend or family member, check whether it’s allowed. Most vaccination sites are asking that only people with appointments come, with exceptions made for those who need extra assistance.
3) Pay attention to your phone. In the days leading up to your appointment, you’ll likely receive a confirmation email or text from the vaccine site. Make sure you respond if you’re asked to. If you don’t receive a text or email, you may want to check with the site to make sure everything worked during sign-up and ensure you’re still on the schedule. You’ll also want to keep an eye on your email or texts on the off chance your site runs out of vaccine doses and has to cancel or reschedule your appointment.
4) Stock up on supplies. After receiving the vaccine, many people are reporting mild symptoms including arm soreness, fatigue and even a short-lived fever. These side effects may be more intense after the second vaccine dose, compared to the first. Check your medicine cabinet to make sure you have a pain reliever or antihistamine on hand in case you need it, and know side effects are normal. “When you have side effects from a vaccine, it means the vaccine is working,” says Bhuyan. And if you’re lucky enough not to have side effects, the vaccine is still working, she says.
5) Get rest and eat first. A few studies have found links between sleep and how the body responds to vaccines. In one study, the flu shot appeared to be more effective in people who got two nights of sufficient sleep before they got the shot. Also, eat before you go since, once inside the vaccination site, you won’t be able to remove your mask and you might have a long wait time. “You want some food in your stomach and some fluid in your system,” Yancey says.
6) Bring your documents. While many areas aren’t requiring people to show an ID to get the vaccine, others are. Florida started requiring people to show proof of state residency for vaccination following an influx of out-of-state and foreign visitors arriving to get the shot. It can’t hurt to bring your driver’s license or state ID and proof of health insurance (if you’re insured), says Yancey. “I would hate for people to get to a site that just started requiring proof of ID and then be turned away.” If you live in a state where you’re getting the vaccine because you’re an essential worker, bring proof of employment. During your appointment, you’ll get a vaccination card stating which vaccine you received, as well as the date and site of your appointment. Choose a safe place to store the card on your way home. If you’re getting a second dose, bring the card with you to your appointment.
7) Build in waiting time. Be prepared to wait if the site is behind schedule. “It might take a lot longer than you anticipate,” says Dr. Nhu Hang, a family physician at MultiCare in Olympia. “Bring a book.” Once you’ve had your shot, you’ll need to stay for observation to make sure you don’t react. So, don’t schedule a work Zoom for right after your appointment. People with a history of allergic reactions to vaccines are waiting around 30 minutes; others are staying for 15 minutes. Let site staff at know if you’ve had an allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past.
8) Stay home if you’re sick. In general, “if you don’t feel well, you should probably reschedule your vaccination,” says Hang. “You should ideally be in good health when you go in.” If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you won’t be allowed at the vaccination site. You’ll need to get tested, and if you get a positive result, you’ll have to quarantine for 10 days and be symptom-free before getting the shot. If you’ve had COVID and you were treated with certain therapies like monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, the CDC advises waiting 90 days before you get the vaccine. Some sites might encourage people who’ve had COVID to wait to get the vaccine and let others go first since reinfection within 90 days is thought to be rare, says Hang.
Once you get the vaccine, Hang says to sign up for the CDC’s V-safe app to report any side effects. The app also reminds you if you still need a second dose. Yancy says that even after vaccination it’s important to continue to follow COVID-19 safety measures.
“Don’t think you’re bullet proof yet,” she says. For one thing, it takes a minimum of seven days after the second dose for the full benefit to kick in. Experts also still aren’t sure whether or not people who’ve been vaccinated can transmit the virus to others. “Until we know whether or not that’s true, we’re still asking people to wear mask,” she says.