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NSAIDs (Advil, Motrin) May Dampen the Antibody Response to COVID-19 Vaccines

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Lara Antal / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of vaccinations is to prepare your immune system to protect you against a virus.
  • Symptoms such as pain or fever are indicators that your immune system is doing its job.
  • Using over-the-counter medications to reduce the discomfort of a vaccination may dampen your immune system’s reaction.

If you are fortunate enough to be getting a vaccine against the COVID-19 soon, you may want to ensure it is as effective as possible by not taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) before you get the injection, according to researchers at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. NSAIDs include well-known pain relievers and fever reducers such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). They reduce inflammation—marked by swelling, redness, and warmth—that is controlled by the immune system.

Like any vaccine, a COVID-19 vaccine may cause pain, swelling, and fever after being administered. Noticing those mild symptoms is a sign that the vaccine is working and your immune system has started to create the antibodies that will fend off the real virus if you happen to be exposed to it. The process of a vaccine nudging the immune system into action is called reactogenicity.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Virology, the researchers from Yale studied the effect of NSAIDs on SARS-CoV-2 in human lung cells in vitro and in infected live mice. They focused on the effects of the NSAIDs ibuprofen and meloxicam, which often is prescribed for orthopedic injuries or arthritis. Results of the study showed that although NSAIDs dampen the inflammatory cytokines associated with severe COVID-19 infections (a good thing), they also dampen the production of protective antibodies against the virus (a bad thing).

"If you have mild symptoms just after getting the vaccination, try to tough it out. If you can’t tolerate the temporary discomfort, I would use acetaminophen (Tylenol) over an NSAID,” Craig B. Wilen, MD, PhD, an immunobiologist in the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and a lead researcher from the study, tells Verywell. “Our study was early so there are no firm recommendations, but based on other studies of NSAID use with vaccinations, the theory is that NSAIDs decrease the antibody response.”

Craig B. Wilen, MD, PhD

If you have mild symptoms just after getting the vaccination, try to tough it out. If you can’t tolerate the temporary discomfort, I would use acetaminophen over an NSAID.

— Craig B. Wilen, MD, PhD

One study from 2016 showed that the timing of when a pain reliever/fever reducer was taken had an effect on the production of antibodies following a vaccination “with novel antigens.” The most dampened immune response was seen when the pain relievers were taken at the time of vaccination. When ibuprofen was taken after vaccination, there was less of a negative impact on antibody production, especially at 5 and 6 days after vaccination. Days 1 to 3 after vaccination did show a suppression of antibodies.

In the Yale study, long-term production of antibodies could not be determined because the mice evaluated in the study live only seven days with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “We are now studying mice that live longer with the infection and will release more data in several months,” Wilen says. “Studies will continue to evaluate different aspects of NSAID use, such as long-term use by people taking NSAIDs daily for arthritis versus occasional use, as in people who take one because they have a headache. And studies will look at how often booster vaccinations will be needed.”

If Your Doctor Prescribed NSAIDs For Other Conditions, Keep Taking Them

If you have already received a COVID-19 vaccination and have been taking NSAIDs long term for chronic conditions or even a daily low-dose aspirin to protect against stroke, don’t worry, says Wilen. “You will still have some level of protection. The protective effect of the medication your doctor prescribed is more important than higher antibody titers. And a year from now we will know more about how often boosters are needed.”

If you are scheduled to get the COVID-19 vaccine, there are a few things you can do before you get the jab. Instead of taking an NSAID in anticipation of the pain, try holding an ice pack on your upper arm before you get the injection to numb the pain of the injection. Reduce anxiety by closing your eyes, visualizing your happy place, and doing some deep-breathing exercises. At the moment the vaccine is injected, try to keep your arm relaxed and move it around after getting the jab. Relaxation can help reduce pain.

“Go get vaccinated, have a smile on your face, and be grateful that science was able to create a vaccine so quickly,” Wilen says.

Once you get the COVID-19 vaccine, you should continue to take the following precautions to avoid contracting or spreading the virus:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available
  • Wear a mask when you are outside of your own home
  • Keep your distance from other people when out in public
  • Choose healthy foods over processed, sugary foods
  • Drink water often to stay hydrated
  • Move your body for 30 minutes most days of the week
  • Make sleep a priority

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. Chen JS, Alfajaro MM, Chow RD, et al. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs dampen the cytokine and antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infectionJ Virol. Published online January 13, 2021:JVI.00014-21, jvi;JVI.00014-21v1. doi:10.1128/JVI.00014-21

  2. Saleh E, Moody MA, Walter EB. Effect of antipyretic analgesics on immune responses to vaccination. Hum Vaccine Immunother. 2016 Sep; 12(9):2391-2402. doi:10.1080/21645515.2016.1183077

  3. Dunford E, Thompson M. Relaxation and mindfulness in pain: a review. Rev Pain. 2010 Mar; 4(1):18-22. doi:10.1177/204946371000400105