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VERIFY: Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen should be avoided before getting vaccine, but OK afterward

Taking certain medications before getting the COVID-19 vaccine can lessen your immune response to it.

At first glance, there seems to be mixed messaging about whether it’s okay to take over-the-counter pain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) when you get a COVID-19 vaccination.

The VERIFY team has found that they should be avoided before you receive a coronavirus vaccine but are fine to take afterward.

THE QUESTION

Do anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine? 

THE ANSWER

Yes, according to Dr. Anita Gupta at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, taking anti-inflammatory medication before getting the COVID-19 vaccine could reduce the vaccine’s effectiveness. 

But after you’ve received the vaccine it should be OK to take these drugs to ease any side effects or pain at the injection site. 

And talk to your doctor before you stop taking any medication you take normally.

WHY WE ARE VERIFYING

A VERIFY viewer sent the team this message:

“In the February 2021 AARP magazine is an article on covid. On page 14 it says we should not take fever reducing meds like aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen because they could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines by interfering with the immune response. Their referring doctor Offit says not to take these anti fever drugs around the time of the vaccine. If this is true why aren't we being educated about this. It's interesting.”

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WHAT WE FOUND

Gupta, the assistant professor and expert in anesthesiology and pain medication at Johns Hopkins, told VERIFY that taking anti-inflammatory drugs before receiving the vaccine may blunt your immune response to the vaccine. 

“It affects something called the B cells, and B cells actually are designed to recognize immune function. So when you take these medications, it blunts that response, and therefore it can blunt your vaccine response. So we generally don't want to take those medications before you take a vaccine,” she explained. 

This happens because anti-inflammatory drugs reduce an immune modulator known as cyclo-oxygenase 2, the enzyme that helps you mount an immune response to diseases. 

“If you take the medication or plan to take it, you may inadvertently reduce your immune response to make those antibodies,” she said. 

She clarified that older adults or those who regularly take these drugs for medical reasons should consult with their health care provider before taking the vaccine. 

“Many people have serious heart diseases, they may have very serious medical conditions why they have to take aspirin. So it's very critical that you always speak to your doctor before discontinuing any medication."

So, avoid taking these drugs before you receive a COVID-19 vaccination, but what about afterward?

“After the vaccine, you can take the acetaminophen or ibuprofen, if indeed it's safe to do so. Or if you have symptoms that make you uncomfortable,” Gupta said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention echoed Gupta’s recommendations. In a document called “What to expect after getting a COVID-19 vaccine,” the CDC writes that “If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.”

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