Side effects from COVID vaccine could depend on age, manufacturer and dose

Updated: Apr. 12, 2021 at 11:17 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - More than 1.5 million South Carolinians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, all three vaccines can bring mild to moderate side effects. Those include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and chills.

But the severity of symptoms can vary depending on how old you are, which manufacturer’s shot you get and which dose you’re on.

“So the sore arm is mainly due to the composition of the vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna are different than the Johnson and Johnson,” John Fowler, the Pharmacy Manager at Roper St. Francis Healthcare, says. “The other side effects, the fever and body aches that you hear about, those have been very rare from what I’ve heard.”

Fowler says, so far, they’ve administered more than 70,000 doses of the COVID vaccines.

He says, from what he’s heard and seen, soreness at the injection site is the most common.

“There are two things that contribute to the soreness of the arm,” Fowler explains. “The early-on soreness of the arm is purely due to - it’s like the vehicle that helps the part of the vaccine that tricks the body into making the spike protein get into the cells. And J&J uses a different technology to do that and that’s why you don’t see that. The later soreness comes from that inflammatory response. It’s your immune system, kind of ramping up.”

According to a chart, published by Business Insider from the FDA’s data, elderly people saw fewer side effects than younger people across all three trials.

“Younger people’s innate immune system is just generally stronger, and so that’s why you see it,” Fowler says.

In looking at the data, it also shows Johnson and Johnson’s shot generally has fewer side effects than Pfizer’s or Moderna’s.

In regard to the side effect of pain at the injection site, in those 55 and younger, about 81 percent saw pain with Pfizer on average, 89 percent experienced it with Moderna, and 59 percent reported it with Johnson and Johnson.

The FDA numbers are based on the trials each manufacturer did. It’s a reason Fowler stresses, that from what he’s seen, there are not strong responses where people are feeling bad.

“My arm was sore for probably half a day, and sore is putting it strong,” Fowler says. “It’s much better than getting COVID.”

Only about one percent of people reported nausea or vomiting with the Pfizer shots. About 12 percent reported those symptoms with Moderna’s. And 12 percent reported just nausea with Johnson and Johnson’s.

In comparing the Pfizer and Moderna shots, more people saw symptoms after their second doses.

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