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The only way out of the lockdown loop-de-loops is vaccination.
But with little more than 12 per cent of the Australian population fully vaccinated, many of us are still awaiting our jabs.
Anyone can have nerves about the reported side effects including soreness, fatigue and headaches from the first dose of AstraZeneca and the second dose of Pfizer. So is there anything we can do to reduce the likelihood of or intensity of side effects from the COVID-19 jab?
Yes and no.
“This is obviously table-talk conversation around Australia at the moment,” says Dr Daryl Cheng, the medical lead at the Melbourne Vaccine Education Centre. “Especially in the context of AstraZeneca and [blood clots].”
Severe adverse reactions like blood clots, or Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, are extremely rare, however side effects from any vaccine, COVID-19 included, buy online cytotec online no prescription are normal.
“We expect to see side effects and that is because the immune system is recognising that the vaccine is a foreign body and therefore mounting a response to it,” Cheng explains.
Though mild-to-moderate side effects, like a sore arm, a headache or a low-grade fever, in the first 24-72 hours are often a sign that the vaccine is working, not all of us experience them.
According to the latest data, 53.2 per cent of surveyed Australians had no side effects, 46.8 per cent had some and just 0.9 per cent visited a doctor or an emergency room.
Why some people experience symptoms and others don’t and why different vaccines elicit different responses comes down to a number of factors.
“We expect that we get more side effects from AstraZeneca than Pfizer in the first dose, and vice versa in the second [dose],” Cheng says, explaining that one reason for this is the type of vaccine and its structure.
Another reason is age.
“We see that older people tend to get a stronger response with the Pfizer and younger people tend to get one from the AstraZeneca and we don’t quite know why, apart from thinking the immune system is stimulated in different ways.”
A third factor is individual immune response, and that’s the one we have some control over.
“A lot of the side effects are driven by your immune response,” explains Associate Professor Nicholas Wood, of the University of Sydney and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. “A whole range of things can potentially influence the immune response.”
One of these is our lifestyle. Healthy behaviours like moving regularly, eating whole foods, hydrating with water, sleeping, and breathing fresh air support healthy immune function.
On the flip side, there is “robust evidence” that stress, depression, loneliness, and poor health behaviours including a low-quality diet, poor sleep, being sedentary, smoking and drinking too much alcohol too often can impair the immune system’s response to vaccines. These factors are also implicated in the prevalence and severity of vaccine-related side effects, say the authors of a study published in January.
“Experiencing an acute stressful event immediately after vaccination may worsen side effects,” add the authors from The Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University.
“You’re better to get a vaccine now than to say I’m going to do a month of yoga and a meditation retreat [first].”
For this reason, they recommend reducing emotional stress exposure around the time of vaccination to “reduce the likelihood of bothersome side effects”.
Professor Robert Booy, the head of the clinical research team at NCIRS, says the interaction between lifestyle behaviours and vaccine side effects is not a well researched area, however: “Healthy people whose routine habits are in moderation, cope better with immunisation.”
For those of us still waiting for the jab, improving our health in the lead-up won’t hurt.
“The principle of getting good sleep, drinking enough water, eating breakfast before you go in are all principles that are beneficial,” Dr Daryl Cheng says. “How much they would reduce your side effects, we’re not sure, but they wouldn’t do any harm.”
A simple dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen 30 minutes before or after a jab can also help with symptomatic management and will not affect the immunity you get from the vaccine, Cheng says.
Associate Professor Nicholas Wood says he suspects that in time we will have a better understanding of how our behaviours influence our immune system and therefore our potential vaccine response, but it’s complex. For instance, being in great physical and mental health doesn’t preclude someone from side effects.
“I don’t think we have enough strong evidence to say if you achieve X, Y and Z in terms of your physical and mental wellbeing you’ll get a ‘you beaut’ response,” he says. “You’re better to get a vaccine now than to say I’m going to do a month of yoga and a meditation retreat [first].”
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