The side effects of COVID-19 vaccines

What to do if you have side effects from the vaccine and when to call a doctor?

Lusin Mkrtchyan
11 March 2022

Vaccines are the most effective way to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the type of vaccine or various COVID-19 strains that can infect people, vaccination prevents people from experiencing severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death.  We spoke with Dr. Siranush Asatryan, a physician at St. Gregory the Illuminator Medical Center, about COVID-19 vaccines and their potential side effects.

"By getting vaccinated, we introduce our body to the virus, so that we are better protected in case of infection.”

"My professional experience has shown that the symptoms are much milder in vaccinated patients. The rate of hospitalization also decreases considerably. Even if a vaccinated patient is hospitalized with COVID-19, the rate of severe outcomes and death is practically zero,” Dr. Asatryan explains.

According to her, once vaccinated, our bodies learn to recognize the virus and they activate our immune systems to fight it. “In fact, [by getting vaccinated] we give our immune system memory and information that such a virus exists. We tell our bodies that if the virus appears, it must respond accordingly, without weakening and damaging our system. The vaccine strengthens the body's natural defenses, helping the immune system recognize and fight the virus,” Dr. Asatryan says.

There are two types of COVID-19 vaccines: mRNA vaccines and viral vector vaccines. Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines have passed all the stages of testing. All WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

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UNICEF Armenia/2022/Galstyan

"The side effects of the vaccine are little and short-term.”

The most common post-vaccination side effects are fever, headache, muscle pain, nausea, tiredness, and pain at the injection site. These effects, which are normal and do not usually last too long, are signs that the body has triggered its immune response and that the vaccine is working.

"These post-vaccination side effects usually occur in the first two days after vaccination. It all depends on the vaccinated person; the same vaccine can cause symptoms in some people and no reaction in others. For example, one person may have a 39-degree fever, or experience muscle pain, a headache, tiredness, and nausea, while another person won’t feel a thing,” Dr. Asatryan explains.

In the case of above-mentioned side effects, it is recommended to consume plenty of fluids. If the vaccinated person has a high fever or is experiencing a headache or muscle pain, they should take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. While patients should let their physicians know about their side effects, since these are short-lived side effects, there is usually no need for medical intervention.

Swelling and the enlargement of the lymph nodes in the forearm is an uncommon side effect. The swelling usually goes away in a few days without any medical intervention.

Dr. Asatryan notes that it is necessary to seek medical attention when the side effects are severe. Seek urgent medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms three days after being vaccinated: unusual headaches and pain and/or redness in the lower extremities. In these cases, it is important to visit a polyclinic and consult a specialist.

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UNICEF Armenia/2022/Galstyan

"Patients should not leave the polyclinic or medical center immediately after being inoculated; they should be monitored by doctors for 15-30 minutes. During this time, we monitor whether there are any signs of anaphylactic shock—the most severe allergic reaction,” Dr. Asatryan explains.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that needs to be treated right away, usually in the form of an adrenaline injection. Symptoms include the feeling of suffocation, airway obstruction, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, and redness, which may be accompanied by vomiting.

Those experiencing a fever for more than three days after vaccination should seek medical attention and be examined by a doctor. Several studies conducted around the world show that blood clots can sometimes occur after vaccination. This can usually occur either after one or two days post-vaccination, or 21 days after the injection. The symptoms include severe headaches, chest pain, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, and excessive sweating. Limbs may become swollen and turn bluish-purple or bright red. You should seek urgent medical attention if you suspect blood clots. Long-term therapy is usually recommended for thrombosis patients.

It should be noted that since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines in Armenia, only 96 people have sought medical attention due to post-vaccination reactions. Only four of the 96 people have been hospitalized—about 0.0002% of the more than two million vaccinations in the country.

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UNICEF Armenia/2022/Galstyan

Have you been tested before being vaccinated?

"Many patients are afraid of vaccination and take various tests before making a decision about getting vaccinated. I believe this is unnecessary. If the patient has no complaints and if they do not have any underlying conditions, being examined is meaningless. You should get examined only if you have certain complaints at that time. In that case, your doctor will advise whether vaccination is recommended or not,” Dr. Asatryan says.

There are both relative and absolute contraindications to vaccination. If the contraindication is relative, it means that the vaccine is contraindicated due to a certain health problem at a given time. If the health problem is resolved the patient can get the vaccine. Anaphylaxis is an absolute contraindication.

"If, for example, there is a risk of severe anaphylactic shock with a certain vaccine, we advise the patient to choose another vaccine with a different composition. Vaccination is contraindicated in the unique case when the patient's chronic disease is decompensated, i.e., has a very negative picture or the most negative picture during the whole disease.,” Asatryan explains.

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UNICEF Armenia/2022/Galstyan

Two doses or three?

Studies show that vaccination provides maximum protection when the vaccine’s full course is administered.

For most COVID-19 vaccines, complete vaccination is comprised of two doses. The purpose of two-dose vaccinations and subsequent booster shots are the same: to avoid hospitalization, severe illness, and death. The booster dose activates the body's immune response, which begins to become inactive sometime after vaccination.

There may be cases when the interval between the two doses is interrupted, for example, due to infection with COVID-19 after receiving the first dose. In this case, Dr. Asatryan says that it is important to receive the second dose 14 days after symptoms disappear and to get boosted 3-6 months later.


This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government