Doctors are encouraging everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19 even if you’ve already had the virus. However, experts say, be prepared for more intense side effects. In a study posted by medRxiv (med archive), researchers report many people who had previously been infected with the virus reported flu-like symptoms after their first dose. Although these findings could mean some discomfort, they also provide insight into how future vaccine doses are determined.
Rachel Barth tested positive for COVID-19 in November.
“I was very sick for like 10 days - super congested, headaches, lost my taste and smell, was very tired, very rundown,” said Barth, Mandan resident and COVID survivor. So, she hopped on the chance to make her vaccination appointment as soon as she was eligible. “I never want to get it again. I want to make sure I’m not giving it to people around me,” said Barth.
New findings show people like Barth who have previously had COVID might be at a higher risk of more intense reactions to the vaccine due to their antibodies attacking the known spike proteins.
“The immune system, when you have COVID, creates antibodies. Those antibodies are there to help fight infection. So, when you get the COVID jab, you’re introducing viral particles back into an immune system that already recognizes COVID. So, your body’s just doing what it wants to do naturally - and that’s fight the infection,” said CHI St. Alexius Medical Director Dr. J’Patrick Fahn.
A second study by medRxiv found those who had been previously infected responded to the first jab by generating antibody levels comparable to the amounts seen after the second dose in people who had never been infected.
“People who have had COVID may only need one injection, may only need one vaccination, as opposed to two, because you already have a baseline of antibodies waiting there. And, you’re amping those up with the first COVID-19 vaccination,” said Fahn.
While there is a chance that Barth, and others who have had COVID, will experience worse side effect, doctors say this is a good sign.
“You might have some chills. You might have some fever. You might have a headache. This is just your body responding to the infection that’s being introduced to your system. Since the body recognizes it from before, it tries to fight it off again,” said Fahn.
Barth says the possibility isn’t going to scare her away from getting her shot.
“As long as the vaccine is still effective for me, I’m willing to deal with a couple days of feeling rundown,” Barth said. She says the symptoms are worth it to her if that means being able to protect herself and her loved ones from the virus. Fahn says while you’re more likely to experience more intense symptoms if you’ve already had COVID, it may not happen.
Emmeline Ivy Reporting, KFYR
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