What you should know about COVID-19 vaccines and medications

A pharmacist puts a bandage on a woman after giving her a vaccine.

We answer questions about timing, safety, and effectiveness.

COVID-19 vaccines have been getting a lot of attention lately and for good reason. The Delta variant continues to spread and the FDA is now recommending a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for some people. And that means our pharmacists have been getting many questions.

If you’re taking medication for an ongoing health condition, you may be wondering if it’s safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine. You also may be wondering if your medication could affect how well the vaccine works.

We spoke with Marie Jacinto-Dearing, a registered pharmacist with Express Scripts® Pharmacy, who has been practicing pharmacy since 1997. She addressed some common questions and concerns about medications and the COVID-19 vaccines.

I’m taking a blood thinner. Is it safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The benefits of vaccination typically outweigh the small risk of bruising, said Jacinto-Dearing. As with any vaccine that’s given intramuscularly, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor first. You should also report any unusual or excessive bleeding or bruising.

Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I’m taking immunosuppressant medications or have a weakened immune system?

None of the COVID-19 vaccines contains live viruses, so there’s no risk of getting COVID-19 from the vaccines. In addition, those whose immune systems are weakened due to illness may be at a greater risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19. The risk is also greater for people taking certain medications, such as rheumatoid arthritis medications, medications given after organ transplants, and long-term steroids.

As with all vaccines given to immunosuppressed individuals, the immune response to the COVID-19 vaccine may not be as strong as it is in people with healthy immune systems. If there’s flexibility with timing, it may help to wait at least two weeks after the COVID-19 vaccine series before starting the immunosuppressive medication. But that’s a decision that should be discussed with your doctor first, said Jacinto-Dearing.

There’s also some data that suggests a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) may help boost immune response. That’s why the CDC recommends a third dose of the same vaccine for people who are immunocompromised. The third dose should come at least 28 days after the second dose. Talk to your doctor about your medical condition and whether getting a third dose is right for you.

Jacinto-Dearing also wants to remind those with weakened immune systems to continue taking precautions, such as social distancing and wearing a mask. It’s especially important since they may not be fully protected against COVID-19, even after being vaccinated.

What about over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen? Can I take any of those before I get the COVID-19 vaccine to help prevent side effects?

It’s unclear if these medications can affect how well the vaccine works, so they’re not recommended for this reason. However, if you’re taking them regularly for other reasons, you should continue to take them as prescribed. In addition, it’s OK to take them to relieve any side effects you may experience after receiving the vaccine, such as low-grade fever or muscle aches and pains.

It’s also not recommended to take antihistamines, like Benadryl, before getting a COVID-19 vaccine to try to prevent allergic reactions. If you actually have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, it may be harder to diagnose and delay important treatment.

Talk to your care team about your situation.

You should always talk to your doctor before getting any vaccine. Pharmacists can also help answer any questions you may have about medications you’re taking and how they interact with vaccines. Remember, Express Scripts® Pharmacy provides 24/7 access to pharmacists by phone, so you always have the support you need.

Posted date: October 12, 2021