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Should You Get the COVID-19 Vaccine if You’re Currently Infected?

Nurse gives older adult healthcare worker the Covid-19 vaccine

 

Courtney Hale / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • If you are infected with COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who is, isolate at home for 10 days or until you recover before visiting a vaccine distribution site.
  • Getting vaccinated while sick will not likely boost your immune response against your current infection.
  • If you recover from COVID-19, the CDC recommends deferring your vaccination schedule for 3 months to allow others without natural immunity to get protection.

People who are infected with COVID-19 are expected to remain isolated and practice safety measures for the health of the public. Experts say a COVID-19 vaccine appointment is no reason to break isolation and put others at risk of infection.

Those who have known exposure to someone sick with COVID-19 should self-isolate for at least 10 days, per CDC recommendations. If, after this period you are not sick or showing symptoms, you are not likely to be contagious and may visit a health center.

“If you’re actively infected you should stay home—you should not get the vaccine,” Deborah Lehman, MD, a pediatrics and infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Verywell. “If you have any symptoms at all, you should not be getting the vaccine or really going out in public.”

For people who are actively infected, the CDC recommends deferring any vaccine appointments until the person has met the guidelines for leaving isolation.

“This recommendation applies to persons who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection before receiving any vaccine doses as well as those who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection after the first dose but before receipt of the second dose,” the CDC states.

When a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, their immune response triggers the production of antibodies that can recognize and attack the virus. The cells that create these antibodies are able to remember and attack the virus after the person has recovered from the disease. Current evidence indicates that immunity can last for 90 days after recovery.

The CDC recommends that while the national supply of vaccine continues to be low, people who have recovered defer their vaccination date for three months after infection to give priority to others who may lack natural immunity.

What This Means For You

People who are actively infected with, or have known exposure to, COVID-19 should not receive the vaccine until they recover from the disease or are safe to leave isolation. Though there’s no known individual harm in receiving a vaccine while sick, experts fear people infected with the virus may spread it to others at vaccine distribution sites.

Differentiating Between Symptoms

Vaccine distribution centers often require people to go through a symptom screening process before entering. Patients typically must answer a series of questions about common symptoms. Lehman says it’s not often feasible to test each person for the disease before administering the vaccine.

“The goal is really to get as many people vaccinated as widely as possible as soon as we can,” Lehman says. “So to delay vaccine by testing everyone prior to giving vaccines doesn’t make any public health sense.”

Some COVID-19 symptoms—such as fever, chills, and body aches—are also possible side effects of the vaccine. This can make it challenging to differentiate between illness and a normal immune response to the vaccine.

“The CDC recommends that people who are actively infected with COVID-19 not receive the vaccine until their symptoms have completely resolved," Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Verywell in an email. "The main reason is that it would be difficult to distinguish possible adverse events associated with the vaccine from symptoms caused by the virus."

Post-vaccine side effects typically last 12 to 36 hours, so Lehman recommends people wait a day after receiving the shot to see if symptoms fade.

“If people do have symptoms after the vaccine and they’re questioning, ‘could this be COVID-19 or could this be a reaction to the vaccine?’ Then we do recommend just waiting and seeing.” Lehman says. “If symptoms persist, they should be tested absolutely.”

The Bottom Line

Scientists don’t yet know for sure the effects of receiving a vaccination while actively sick with COVID-19. For now, there is no evidence that being infected with COVID-19 changes the effectiveness of the vaccine or causes bodily harm. Getting vaccinated while you're sick will not likely boost your immune response against your current infection.

The bottom line, Lehman says, is to receive the vaccine when it becomes available to you, and to continue following safe social distancing and masking procedures, even after vaccination.

“We have an ongoing, raging pandemic in this country and world, and the end is really going to be getting as many people as we can vaccinated,” Lehman says.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Discontinuation of isolation for persons with COVID-19 not in healthcare settings. Updated December 3, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim clinical considerations for use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the United States. Updated January 21, 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Duration of isolation and precautions for adults with COVID-19. Updated October 19, 2020.