Covid Jab Side Effects Are 'Normal', Say GPs. But Here's When To Seek Help

Most vaccine side effects won't last longer than a few days. Here's what to look out for.

It’s “normal” for people to experience mild side effects after having the Covid-19 vaccination, GPs have said. But when does a mild side effect turn into something you need to seek help for?

The most common side effects of the vaccines are a sore arm (as the vaccine is administered into the upper arm), headache, feeling tired or achey, and feeling nauseous or being sick.

Such side effects appear to be less common in those aged 55 and over, and more common in those aged 16 to 55 years old.

Other common side effects you might experience include: a lump where you had the injection and flu-like symptoms (like a high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, cough and chills).

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “It is normal, as with most vaccinations, for some patients to experience mild side effects – such as a sore arm or fatigue – after receiving their jab, which usually last no longer than a few days.”

Covid vaccine side effects impact one in 10 people.
Covid vaccine side effects impact one in 10 people.

If you do have mild side effects – like a headache or joint pain, for example – it’s recommended you treat them with painkillers, such as paracetamol.

Uncommon side effects of the vaccine, affecting roughly one in 100 people, include: dizziness, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, enlarged lymph nodes, excessive sweating, and itchy skin or a rash.

Rare side effects, which impact one in 1,000 people, include temporary one-sided facial drooping and in very rare instances, severe allergic reactions.

If symptoms become worse or start to cause concern, patients should seek medical assistance by calling 111 or their GP practice, says Prof Marshall. Or, in an emergency, they should phone 999.

Recently, several European countries paused vaccination with the AstraZeneca jab over fears it could be linked to blood clots. In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has acknowledged there might be a link, but said more work is needed to establish “beyond all doubt that the vaccine has caused these side effects”.

MHRA identified 79 cases of rare blood clot events after the first dose of the vaccine out of 18.1m doses of the jab administered up to and including March 31. Of the 51 women and 28 men affected, 19 died. The risk is equivalent to four people in one million.

The European Medicines Agency’s safety committee has concluded that “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects” of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

As a precaution, anyone who experiences a headache for more than four days after having the AstraZeneca jab, as well as bruising somewhere other than the injection site after a few days, should seek medical attention.

The EMA and MHRA also recommend patients should seek urgent medical assistance if they have the following symptoms after the AstraZeneca vaccine: shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling in your leg, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms including severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision, and tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of injection.

In very rare instances, some people have experienced anaphylaxis after having the Covid jab – this would require emergency attention.

Signs of anaphylaxis include: sudden and rapid progression of symptoms, life-threatening airway and/or breathing and/or circulation problems, and skin changes (such as the appearance of rashes). But rashes alone aren’t a sign of anaphylactic reaction, according to Public Health England’s green book.

People who experience any side effects, whether mild or more severe, can report these on the Yellow Card website to help inform vaccine safety.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is our best protection against the virus,” says Prof Marshall, “and we would encourage anyone who has been invited for their first dose to come forward – and to return for their second dose, when advised, to ensure maximum protection.

“Patients should be assured that both Covid-19 vaccines currently being used in the UK have been approved by the MHRA and have gone through a rigorous process to ensure they are both safe and effective.”