What to Do Before, During, and After Your COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment

An illustration of a vaccine ampule, syringe, and yellow vaccination record card on a magenta background.

anilyanik / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Experts agree that you should not wait for a specific COVID-19 vaccine; rather, get vaccinated as soon as one becomes available to you.
  • Follow certain steps before, during, and after the vaccine to ensure the day of your appointment goes smoothly.
  • After you get your vaccine, continue to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines, such as wearing a mask and social distancing in public.

Public health experts say that even though several COVID-19 vaccines are approved in the United States, people should not wait for (or avoid) a specific shot. Rather, people should get vaccinated as soon as possible with whichever vaccine is available to them.

Verywell asked several medical experts about what you should and should not do before, during, and after your vaccination appointment.

Before Your Appointment

Keep two reminders top-of-mind on the day of your appointment:

Bring an ID (If You Can)

Identification and proof-of-age protocols can vary from one state to another, says MarkAlain Déry, DO, MPH, FACOI, epidemiologist and medical director for infectious diseases at Access Health Louisiana.

You may be asked to present a driver’s license, state ID, or other government-issued ID. Or you may be able to present a pay stub, employer-issued insurance card, or, for a child, a birth certificate.

But the procedure applies only to people who have such identification. No one who wants a COVID vaccine is denied a vaccine and/or turned away for lack of identification.

Moreover, if you have an underlying health condition, you are not required to present evidence that you have the condition. However, at some sites, you might be required to self-certify or fill out a certification document.

Why ID Is Not Required

Everyone living in the United States, regardless of status, has a right to a COVID vaccine. By not requiring ID, undocumented people who may fear deportation at vaccination sites can access vaccines. President Biden and the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not be at or near vaccination clinics. "DHS is committed to ensuring that every individual who needs a vaccine can get one, regardless of their immigration status."

Avoid Taking Steroids

You should avoid taking steroids a week before your vaccination, said Kathryn A. Boling, MD, a family medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center.

"You don't want to start steroids the week before you're vaccinated or immediately after you are vaccinated because steroids suppress inflammation a lot," Boling said. "The anti-inflammatory effect could interfere with your body's ability to mount a good reaction to the vaccine and for you to become protected.”

Boling adds that you should inform your doctor if you have an upcoming vaccine appointment or were vaccinated a week before. By having this information, they can avoid prescribing you a steroid or any medication that could suppress your immune response.

If you are already on steroids or other medications, do not stop taking them unless your healthcare provider tells you to.

The Day of Your Appointment

On the day of your appointment, five pointers will help everything proceed as planned:

Know Your Site Location

Déry says that you should know how to get to your vaccination site and show up there on time for your appointment.

Doing so can avoid delays—both for you and the people behind you in line.

Don’t Take Pain Relievers

Experts agree that you should not take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as Tylenol or ibuprofen right before you get your COVID shot. These medications could decrease the vaccine's effectiveness.

Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug which thwarts the vaccine’s effort to train the immune system to react to a virus by increasing inflammation.

When people have side effects after the shot (such as arm pain, chills, and muscle pain) it's because the immune system is learning to make antibodies specific to the virus or viral features.

“You don't want to slow down or stunt that process by taking something like ibuprofen beforehand,” Boling said.

Stay Hydrated

Water is not only important for everyday health, but it can also help manage or even prevent any vaccine discomfort.

If you're dehydrated, you may experience dizziness and constipation, which can compound any mild side effects you might have from the vaccine, Boling said.

Wear Proper Clothing

When you go to your appointment, make sure that you're properly dressed. This means wearing loose-fitting clothing that allows easy access to your upper arm area.

“Don’t come with a long-sleeved turtleneck that you have to pull your whole arm out," Boling said. "Wear something that they can reach the spot on your arm easily so the whole process goes smoothly."

Offer Your Non-Dominant Arm for Vaccination

A common side effect of any vaccination is arm pain. If given a choice, Déry says that you should use your non-dominant arm for the injection because then “if you feel any side effects or discomfort from the injection, at least it wouldn't interfere with your everyday activities."

What This Means For You

  • Medical experts agree that you should get vaccinated against COVID-19 when it’s your turn to do so. Don’t hold off and wait for a specific vaccine. All FDA-approved vaccines can help prevent severe COVID infection and death, so get whichever one is available to you.
  • To make sure everything goes smoothly, there are several steps that you can take on the day of your vaccine appointment.
  • If you have mild discomfort after your shot, it's OK to take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Just do not take one before your appointment.
  • Remember that you still need to take precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing. You are not fully protected immediately after you get your vaccine. In fact, "regardless of which vaccine you get, you won’t reach full protection until two weeks after your second or final dose."

After You Get Vaccinated

It's smart to prepare for any side effects you might experience after the shot, though with any luck, they will not materialize:

Log Your Side Effects

Consider participating in the V-Safe program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People can opt into the smartphone-based service when they receive a vaccination. By reporting any side effects, you can help the CDC gather research on vaccine safety.

If you're scheduled for a subsequent dose, V-safe will also send text message reminders about your appointment.

Don’t Post Your Vaccination Card Online

You may be tempted to share your relief about getting a vaccine. But be careful about what you post online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautions against posting your vaccination card on social media, where it can be stolen.

“I would not recommend posting their vaccination card online," Déry said. "That's because there’s some identifiable information like your name, your birthday, and your gender. And (it) could be potentially used for ID theft.”

While posting your birthday may seem harmless, the FTC cautions against underestimating identity thieves. They use any information they can to guess digits from a Social Security number, open accounts, and claim tax refunds.

Avoid Alcohol

You may wish to commemorate your COVID shot with an alcoholic drink. But it’s better to postpone the celebration by a day, Boling said.

“I wouldn't drink alcohol the very first day that you're vaccinated only because that may interfere with your ability even to know if you have any side effects," she said. "I don't think there have been any studies that say you can't, but I would recommend to my patients not to drink alcohol the same day they’re vaccinated.”

Déry echoes the wisdom in being cautious. If you absolutely cannot resist the temptation to drink, make sure that you do so responsibly and in moderation.

Use Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers If Needed

Any side effects of the vaccine you might experience will be temporary; you do not need to do anything specific to treat them unless they are especially bothersome.

It's safe to take Tylenol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen for arm pain, soreness, or discomfort. If you dislike the idea of taking medication, try an ice pack instead.

“If you have had COVID-19 infection and you developed antibodies in your system, you're more likely to have a reaction with the first vaccine,” Boling said. “If you haven't had COVID, you're more likely to have a reaction with the second vaccine. But like I said, I have some people who don't have any reactions."

Keep Following CDC Guidelines

Many newly vaccinated people feel a strong urge to chuck their mask once and for all. If it could, the CDC would post a "Not so fast!" message on its website in response.

It continues to urge people to wear masks in:

  • Indoor public places
  • Crowded outdoor places

Plus, "wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and train stations."

Many people continue to protest these guidelines. They suggest that being vaccinated should make them invincible to COVID—as well as to the Delta and Omicron variants.

Cleveland Clinic points out that masks are necessary because:

  • It takes time for a vaccination to kick in.
  • While effective, a vaccine does not provide 100% protection.
  • Even vaccinated people may be asymptomatic carriers.
  • It's important to protect people who cannot be vaccinated or whose immune systems are compromised.
  • Many people have not received a booster, and their level of protection has probably fallen.

People with obesity and those who are older should also continue to exercise caution after they are vaccinated. Historically, obesity and age are two factors that can make it harder for the body to mount a robust response and become fully immune, Boling said.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I have to get a COVID test before getting the vaccine?

    No, but you should wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet apart from others.

  • Does the shot hurt?

    The shot goes into the deltoid muscle, a big muscle on the shoulder. Most people say they barely feel the shot. 

  • Can I take over-the-counter pain medication after a COVID vaccine?

    Yes. As long as no other health issues pose a problem, you may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. How long does it take for the COVID-19 vaccine to work?

  2. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Social media is no place for COVID-19 vaccination cards.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Already vaccinated? Here's why you shouldn't stop wearing your face mask yet.

By Jocelyn Solis-Moreira
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira is a journalist specializing in health and science news. She holds a Masters in Psychology concentrating on Behavioral Neuroscience.