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.


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.
  • Most adults in the United States will become eligible to receive a vaccine by May 1. While you wait, there are steps that you can take to ensure the day of your appointment goes smoothly.
  • After you get your vaccine, you still need to take steps to protect others. Continue to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines such as wearing a mask and social distancing in public.

President Biden recently announced that all American adults would be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1. Public health experts say that even though more than one COVID-19 vaccine is 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.

Right now, vaccines are in high demand. More doses are on the way, but it might be a while before you can secure an appointment. While you wait, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that you're fully prepared when it’s your turn to get the vaccine.

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

Before Your Appointment

There are several key steps to take before the day of your appointment to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Have Your Documents Ready

If you are scheduled for vaccination before May 1, you may have to show proof of eligibility. MarkAlain Déry, DO, MPH, FACOI, epidemiologist and medical director for infectious diseases at Access Health Louisiana, tells Verywell that the expectations for documentation vary at each site.

At the very least, you should be able to prove your age and employment (for instance, if you're an essential worker). You are not required to present a state ID or driver’s license. Instead, you can show proof such as a birth certificate, pay stub, or employee badge.

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.

In February, President Biden and the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not be at or near vaccination clinics.

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.

Avoid Taking Steroids

Kathryn A. Boling, MD, a family medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center, advises people to avoid taking steroids a week before vaccination. “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," says Boling. "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, experts say that there are a few things to keep in mind.

Know Your Site Location

Déry says that you should know how to get to the correct site location and show up on time to avoid delays. This is especially important when clinics open up for sites doing mass vaccinations. Drive-through vaccination clinics have opened up in response to the increasing demand for vaccinations.

“They’re going to start lining cars up and vaccinate people in their cars, so you may want to prepare to wait for a little while," says Déry. "Make sure you have enough gas in your car and something to read like a book, magazine, or newspaper.”

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,” says Boling.

Stay Hydrated

Water is not only important for everyday health, but it can help manage or even prevent any vaccine discomfort. Boling says that if you are dehydrated, you may experience dizziness and constipation which would compound any mild side effects you might have from the vaccine.

Wear Proper Clothing

When you go to your appointment, make sure that you're properly dressed for the occasion. That means wearing something that gives the person giving you the shot easy access to your upper arm area.

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

Use 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 before and on the day of your vaccine appointment, such as making sure that you have all your documentation ready and that you know where your appointment is located.

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 you go to your appointment. Remember that you still need to take precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing, as you are not fully protected immediately after you get your vaccine.

After You Get Vaccinated

The aftercare for your COVID vaccine day includes more than just dealing with any mild side effects you might experience.

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 second dose, V-safe will also send text message reminders about your next vaccine appointment.

Don’t Post Your Vaccination Card Online

While you might be tempted to share your relief about getting a vaccine, be careful about what you post online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautions against posting your vaccination card on social media because of personal information.

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

While posting your birthday may not seem dangerous, the FTC says that it could help identity thieves collect pieces of personal information that could be used to guess digits from your Social Security number, open accounts in your name, and claim tax refunds.

Avoid Alcohol

While you may want to commemorate your COVID shot with an alcoholic shot, Boling says that it’s better to delay the celebration by a day.

“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," says Boling. "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.”

Even though there is limited data regarding alcohol use and COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness, both experts advise caution. If you decide to drink the same day as your vaccine, Déry says to make sure that you drink 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.

“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,” says Boling. “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.”

While you should not take a pain reliever right before you get vaccinated, if you’re feeling arm pain, soreness, or discomfort after the shot, experts say that it's likely safe to take a Tylenol or ibuprofen. Ice packs can also help.

Keep Following CDC Guidelines

In early March, the CDC revised its COVID-19 guidelines to allow people who are fully vaccinated to socialize indoors in small groups without face masks. However, vaccinated people should continue to wear masks outside and in public spaces because there is still a risk of spreading the virus to others.

“When these vaccines were approved, all they looked at was if it prevented you from getting a symptomatic case of COVID," says Boling, who uses herself as an example because she took part in Pfizer's clinical trial.

“I never had symptoms, but that doesn’t mean I didn't have COVID," says Boling, adding that while there's no proof, she could "have had a very low-grade case of it and maybe transmitted it to other people if I wasn't wearing a mask and being careful."

Boling's example highlights why masking and social distancing are still necessary, as "we don't know for sure if you’re completely protected or if you’re just protected from symptomatic disease" when you get the vaccine.

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

Déry adds that mask-wearing and other CDC guidelines are still necessary because of the circulating COVID-19 strains. While there has been some research indicating that the current vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 variant found in the United Kingdom, less is known about the effectiveness against the variants that originated in South Africa and Brazil.

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.

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  1. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Social media is no place for COVID-19 vaccination cards. Updated February 5, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Guidance for organizing large events and gatherings. Updated March 7, 2021.