‘I Got a COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Shot—This Is What My Experience Was Like’

As you've probably heard, COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are now available to certain Americans. More specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people who meet specific criteria are eligible to get a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine booster shot at least six months after completing their vaccination series. Those who are eligible include people 65 years and older, people who are at least 18 years old and live in long-term care settings or work in high-risk environments. Additionally, the CDC says that folks who are at least 18 years old and have underlying health conditions are eligible.

Experts In This Article

So if you or someone you know fits into that criteria, you might be wondering what the experience is like. A new study from the CDC analyzed self-reported data from people who had their third shots and had some interesting takeaways. The study specifically looked at data from 22,191 third dose recipients who participated in the CDC's V-Safe vaccine safety reporting program between August 12 and September 19, 2021. Only 31 percent of the respondents reported having booster shot side effects, and 28.3 percent said they didn't feel well enough to do their normal daily activities, usually the day after they received their third shot.

The most commonly reported booster shot side effects were pain at the injection site (70 percent), fatigue (56 percent), and headaches (43.4 percent). And while most people had mild side effects, 7 percent described their symptoms as "severe," which the CDC defined as pain that made it difficult or impossible to do daily activities.

If you've already had your first two doses, most of these side effects probably sound familiar. "It's likely that a person will experience a level of side effects similar to prior doses," says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, agrees. "There doesn't seem to be any higher risk for side effects with a third dose," he says.

Dr. Watkins explains that the variability comes down to your individual immune response. "Everyone's physiology is slightly different," he says. In short: one person's experience might not mirror your own. Still, there's some comfort in hearing from people who've actually been there, done that. Below, four people share their experiences getting their COVID-19 booster shot.

"It was quick and easy"

Jeannie Moore, 71, received her COVID-19 booster shot at her local Salisbury, Maryland drugstore. "It was quick and easy," she says, noting that she also had her flu shot at the same time.

The only side effect Moore experienced was swelling in her arm where she received the shot. "It's extremely perplexing to me why some people are so reluctant to be vaccinated," she says. "When I was a child, I was in a group of kids testing the polio vaccine. My parents had no hesitation putting me in this group because the threat of getting polio was so frightening at that time. I went through both tests without problems."


"The next day, I had a sore arm—that was it"

Lois Knight says she qualified for her booster shot because she's "over 80." Knight went to a local drugstore in Nashville, Tennessee, and says the experience was "so painless and quick that I almost thought the pharmacist faked it."

Knight says she had "no side effects whatsoever from shots number one or number two," but she experienced minor symptoms the day after her vaccination. "The next day, I had a sore arm—that was it," she says.

Knight says she decided to get her booster shot because her family is "very safety oriented." She has a son with cancer and, as a result, she says, "we're being very cautious at all times."

"I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. I usually go to bed later"

Thomas Russo, who is "over 65," got his COVID-19 booster shot for several reasons. "It gives me a little bit of an edge in protecting me against severe illness," he says. But Russo is also an infectious disease physician, and he says he wants to make sure he's able to protect his patients and be available for them as well.

"If I get a breakthrough infection, that will present logistical issues for me taking care of patients," he says. "I also wouldn't want to put them at risk. Even though we mask up, masks aren't perfect."

Russo says he had "maybe a little bit of fatigue" after his first two shots, although he says it's "hard to tell" given that he's been working hard during the pandemic. Russo had his third dose on Monday and, by Tuesday afternoon, he said he felt tired and had a "sense of a fever" without actually having a fever (he was temperature checked at the hospital where he works). "I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. I usually go to bed later," he says. By the next day, though, Dr. Russo says he "felt great."


"My arm was only a little sore—no other symptoms"

Jackie Fishman, who is "over 65," says she visited a drugstore in the Washington, D.C. area, and the process was even easier than when she received her first two doses of the vaccine. "I simply walked out of the drugstore clinic after my vaccination," she says. "Last two times, I was asked to sit and wait to see if I had a reaction." The shot itself was "less painful than the first but slightly more painful than the second," Fishman says.

The day after her vaccine, Fishman says she was "feeling fine," adding, "my arm was only a little sore—no other symptoms." Fishman says she felt so good the day after her vaccine, she played a game of pickleball.


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