Concerned about coronavirus vaccine side effects? Here’s what to expect.

“We haven’t really seen anything that makes us worry,” a Tampa General doctor says.
Dr. Carlos Martinez, left, explains the vaccination process to a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in the Bronx borough of New York before administering a first dose Tuesday.
Dr. Carlos Martinez, left, explains the vaccination process to a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in the Bronx borough of New York before administering a first dose Tuesday. [ MARY ALTAFFER | AP ]
Published Jan. 27, 2021

Side effects from the nation’s two approved coronavirus vaccines were minimal in drug trials, and the same has been true so far as doses are doled out in Tampa Bay.

The most common are soreness at the injection site, fatigue and headaches, experts say — symptoms that can come along with most vaccines as they prompt your immune system to respond.

Nearly 174,000 people in Tampa Bay had received at least one of two doses required for each of the vaccines as of Wednesday, state data shows. The state does not report data on side effects, but a doctor from the region’s largest hospital said none she’s witnessed are surprising.

“We haven’t really seen anything that makes us worry or is unexpected,” said Dr. Kami Kim, director of the infectious diseases and internal medicine division at the University of South Florida medical school, who also practices at Tampa General Hospital.

Dr. Kami Kim
Dr. Kami Kim [ Courtesy of USF Health ]

She got both doses of vaccine herself and experienced body aches and some swelling near the injection site after the second. She took ibuprofen for the next 36 hours, then was back to normal, she said.

A couple colleagues “felt bad enough that they went home or took it easy for the day,” Kim said. Some reported dizziness or racing heartbeats. But there have been no severe allergic reactions to her knowledge.

Nurses and other Tampa General team members who at first were hesitant about the vaccines are now coming around after seeing the limited side effects, Kim said. They see the benefit of protection outweighs the risk of minimal and temporary discomfort.

The vaccines “work spectacularly well, and none of the side effects are serious,” she said. “From a public health point of view, it’s totally worth it.”

Related: Questions about coronavirus vaccines? Check our running list of answers.

Side effects are more likely with a second dose than a first, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines can cause muscle and joint pain, chills, fever, swelling and redness at the injection site, nausea, swollen lymph nodes and a general unwell feeling.

Those symptoms occur as the body responds to the drugs and generates an immune response. They’re typical with many vaccines, including the flu shot.

In drug trials by drug manufacturers Pfizer and BioNTech, which teamed up to develop the first coronavirus vaccine approved in the U.S., severe adverse reactions affected fewer than 5 percent of about 38,000 participants.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Eighty-four percent, however, experienced pain at the injection site — by far the most-reported symptom. About 63 percent felt fatigue, 55 percent had headaches, 38 percent had muscle pain, 32 percent had chills, 24 percent had joint pain and 14 percent reported fevers.

Severe side effects were reported among fewer than 10 percent of the 30,000 participants of drug trials by Moderna, which developed the country’s second coronavirus vaccine.

However, 92 percent experienced pain at the injection site, a Moderna report shows. Sixty-nine percent were fatigued, 63 percent had headaches, 60 percent had muscle pain, 45 percent reported joint pain and 43 percent reported having chills.

All side effects should resolve within a few days, Kim said, adding that the symptoms are a small price to pay for near-guaranteed protection from the coronavirus.

“If our choices are, take the vaccine or live like this for another two years, for me, it’s easy,” she said. “Take the vaccine.”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.

VACCINES Q & A: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.

FACE MASKS: Read the latest on guidelines, tips for comfort and long-term wear

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

A TRIBUTE TO THE FLORIDIANS TAKEN BY THE CORONAVIRUS: They were parents and retirees, police officer and doctors, imperfect but loved deeply.

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.