Will I have worse COVID-19 vaccine symptoms if I’ve already had the virus?

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THORNTON, CO – MARCH 06: Prepared doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the newest vaccine approved by the U.S. FDA for emergency use, sit in a box at an event put on by the Thornton Fire Department on March 6, 2021 in Thornton, Colorado. Colorado entered COVID-19 vaccination Phase 1B.3 on Friday, allowing essential grocery and agriculture workers, people over the age of 60 and people with two or more high-risk conditions to receive a vaccine. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

(KTVX) — You may have heard that those who have already been sick with COVID-19 experience worse symptoms after receiving the vaccine. But is this accepted by the medical community, or is it just a myth?

According to Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, there is some observational data that those who’ve had COVID-19 get pretty symptomatic after their first dose of the COVID-19 shot.

On the other hand, “most people that haven’t had COVID-19, take the first shot, no problem,” he said. “Don’t react, maybe have a sore arm. And then their second shot, they can be symptomatic with fevers, chills, kind of feeling rundown.”

He said this happens because, for those who have had COVID-19, that first shot is really their booster shot, so that’s the shot that they tend to become symptomatic from. And that’s completely normal, Stenehjem said.

“There is some data and a lot of people talking about this – if you’ve had COVID-19 – that you may only need one shot of Pfizer and Moderna because that’s truly your booster shot. We don’t have any good clinical data on that. That’s work that’s in progress, but that is something that may come to fruition… that people who’ve had COVID only necessary only need one shot that acts as your booster,” he explained.

Dr. Emily Spivak, from the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health, said much the same.

She said published data shows that people who have had COVID-19 prior to receiving the vaccine experience an increased rate of local or systemic side effects such as fevers, chill, muscle aches, fatigue, and headaches after the first vaccine dose versus those who haven’t.

“It’s not 100%, but the overall rate is higher,” Spivak explained.

And, she said, this makes sense because “what is happening since that first dose is recalling the immune system and reminding the body’s immune system that it has seen COVID-19 before, and part of that immune response is, again, these side effects. It’s kind of like having a flu-like illness.”

If the vaccine is acting as a booster for the previously infected, is there a chance that these people will only need one shot of Pfizer or Moderna?

“That’s one thing that has been proposed,” Spivak said. Those who have had COVID-19 often have a high antibody response after just the first dose, she explained.

“There was some suggestion that maybe one dose was enough and that could be a way to stretch the vaccine supply. That practice was never implemented in the U.S.,” she said. But it is unknown for how long that antibody response would last compared to a two-dose series.

“I suspect a fair number of them would be protected with just one dose,” Spivak said.

Though it is still unknown whether or not one dose could be enough for those who have had COVID-19, Spivak said that having two doses of the vaccine is not dangerous by any means.

For more information on this topic, see information from the New England Journal of Medicine included below.

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