January 27, 2021

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine: What to expect

When it’s your turn to get vaccinated, here’s what it will be like.

As a health care worker — an emergency department unit assistant in Oakland, California — Alice Eads was among the first eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It was a lot of emotions. I was excited.” After months of waiting, the vaccines were here, and it was Alice Eads’ turn to get hers.

As a health care worker, Eads sees the very real effects of the COVID-19 pandemic almost daily.

“I get calls all day long from people who can’t come inside the hospital with their families because of the pandemic,” said Eads, an emergency department unit assistant at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, California. “I also get calls from members who are very ill. They need to come into the emergency department alone due to the patient-only rule, but they’re afraid.”

So, when she learned she was in one of the first groups eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine as a health care worker, Eads was thinking about the future: “It looks brighter.”

What to expect at your COVID-19 vaccine appointment

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is an important part of our efforts to slow and eventually stop the coronavirus spread.

When it’s your turn to get vaccinated, here’s what to expect.

Plan for 2 doses, spaced a few weeks apart.

The vaccines currently authorized for use require 2 doses. That means after you get your first shot, you’ll need to get a second shot 3 to 4 weeks later. The 2 doses you receive must be from the same vaccine manufacturer; you won’t be able to mix and match.

You’ll receive a vaccination card.

When you get your first dose, you’ll get a card that shows the brand of vaccine and the date you’ll need to get your second dose. The card also serves as proof of vaccination, so keep it in a safe place. You can take a picture of it as an extra safety measure.

After each shot — both your first and second dose — you’ll wait 15 to 30 minutes.

Many vaccination providers, including Kaiser Permanente, are asking patients to stay for 15 minutes at the vaccination site after getting a dose to watch for any allergic reactions. People with allergies may be asked to wait for 30 minutes.

For Eads, sitting there with other people doing their part to help end the pandemic felt good.

“You’re in it together,” she said. “It feels like teamwork.”

You may experience side effects. 

Eads felt almost no side effects from getting the vaccine — not even a sore arm. However, like with other vaccines, some people have reported feeling temporary flu-like symptoms, lasting 1 to 2 days on average, after receiving a dose. The symptoms are a sign that your body is building immunity to the virus. These side effects may include:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Joint pain
  • Fever

Severe side effects are not common, but if you experience any, contact your doctor.

History of severe allergic reactions? Check with your doctor

Allergic reactions to the vaccines are extremely rare. However, check with your doctor before getting vaccinated if you:

  • Have a history of severe allergic reactions
  • Carry injectable epinephrine, such as an EpiPen
  • Have had a severe reaction to any ingredients in a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Have had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Keep wearing a mask

Getting the vaccine was a relief for Eads, but it didn’t change the way she lives her life. “I still wear a mask. I’m constantly washing my hands and taking every precaution,” she said.

Even after you receive your second vaccine dose, you’ll still need to wear a mask and maintain physical distance from people outside your household. Here’s why: The vaccine will likely prevent you from getting sick, but it may not prevent you from getting and spreading the virus.

To protect yourself and those around you, continue doing the things that work and save lives: Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, avoid gatherings, and keep your distance from others. And, be ready to get vaccinated when it’s your turn.

For the latest vaccine eligibility information and guidance on how to get a vaccine when you’re eligible, visit kp.org/covidvaccine