Severe side effects from COVID-19 vaccine are rare

Vaccine side effects, such as headaches, fevers and chills, are a sign our immune system is building protection against the virus we are being vaccinated against.

When we receive an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), the vaccine tells our cells to build copies of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s impossible for these spike protein copies to infect us with COVID-19. But our body sees a protein it doesn’t recognize and launches an immune response to build antibodies. Even if those antibodies do not prevent infection, they, along with memory –B and –T cells, can respond immediately and reduce the length and severity of illness. People who are not vaccinated were 17 times more likely to die from COVID-19 in March than those who received a primary vaccine series plus a booster dose.

Severe adverse events from vaccination are rare.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that may occur within minutes after receiving any vaccination. For COVID-19 vaccinations, it has occurred at a rate of about five cases per 1 million vaccinations.

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. These reactions are rare and happen most often in teenagers or young adult males, usually within one week of receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (Pfizer or Moderna). CDC data show myocarditis occurs less often after a booster dose than the second dose in a primary vaccine series. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart. Most patients respond well to treatment of their symptoms and feel better within a few days.

Treatments available for COVID-19 infections

More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now several effective treatments for the disease. Two of those treatments are Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, antiviral pills for non-hospitalized patients. They are available by prescription to people infected with the COVID-19 virus who have conditions that put them at risk for severe illness.

COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly in Malheur County. If you or a loved one tests positive for COVID-19 and is at risk for serious disease, there are treatment options available. If you test positive, contact your provider and request a prescription for one of the antiviral medications being used to treat COVID-19.

There are no federal test-to-treat locations in Malheur County, so you will need to contact a medical provider to access medication.

Eligibility for Paxlovid and Molnupiravir:

People with certain health conditions like chronic lung disease or cancer are at higher risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19 infection, as are people older than 65. Conditions that increase risk for severe COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

  • Type 1 or 2 diabetes
  • Depression or schizophrenia
  • Chronic lung or heart diseases, including moderate to severe asthma
  • Cancer
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Down syndrome
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Age may be a factor that contributes to higher risk

Check out the full list of eligible conditions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both Paxlovid and Molnupiravir must be taken within five days of symptom onset.

Because these medications are only available at certain pharmacies, ask your physician which pharmacy you should use to access the medication. Currently, dozens of pharmacies in Oregon, located in most counties, carry Paxlovid and Molnupiravir. Pharmacies should not ask for any fees associated with the medication, including dispensing fees.

Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines (getting primary series and booster) and following preventive measures for COVID-19 are important. This is especially important if you are older or have severe health conditions or more than one health condition, including those on this list. Learn more about how CDC develops COVID-19 vaccination recommendations. If you have a medical condition, learn more about Actions You Can Take.

Come to the Health Department for all your vaccination needs

Today is Walk-in Wednesday at the Malheur County Health Department, that day when any county resident can walk in and receive nearly any vaccine they need. All childhood vaccines and the majority of adult vaccines are available, including vaccines to protect against Hepatitis A and B, among many others.

Walk-in Wednesday runs from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. No appointment is needed. Call 541-889-7279 for more information.

Severe side effects from COVID-19 vaccination are rare

The most common reason people have not received a COVID-19 booster dose is concern about side effects, according to a recent survey of Oregon Health Authority blog readers. With eight reasons to choose from, 37% chose “I had side effects and I don’t want to go through that again.”

Some people worry the vaccine will cause them to miss a day of work or they don’t want to endure a fever or chills.

“My reaction to the second COVID-19 shot was not fun,” wrote one reader.

These types of side effects are common and indicate your body is building an immune response.

Other readers are concerned about more severe side effects, which are rare.

“The vaccine is quite safe and highly effective at reducing severe illness and death,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak, medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at Oregon Health Authority (OHA). “One is definitely better off with it than without it. I got my vaccine and boosters, and I made sure that my family got vaccinated.”

The United States recently surpassed the grim milestone of 1 million COVID-19-related deaths. Recent CDC data show people who weren’t vaccinated were 17 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who received a primary vaccine series plus a booster dose.

Why does the vaccine cause side effects?

When we receive an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), it tells our cells to build copies of the spike protein found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s impossible for these spike protein copies to infect us with COVID-19. But our body sees a protein it doesn’t recognize and launches an immune response to build antibodies. That immune response comes with the common side effects many feel from the vaccine, and those side effects should go away within a few days.

“Reactions to the vaccine vary quite a bit from one person to another,” Cieslak said. “But regardless, we know that about 95% of people build an immune response to it.”

If you experience these symptoms, you can take over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with discomfort. It is not recommended to take these medications before vaccination; take them only if you need them.

Adverse events following vaccination

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that may occur within minutes after receiving any vaccination. For COVID-19 vaccinations, it has occurred at a rate of about five cases per 1 million vaccinations. Health care providers can effectively treat the reaction immediately, and this is why COVID-19 vaccination clinic workers ask people to wait at least 15 minutes before leaving. For more information on allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine, including anaphylaxis, visit here.

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. These reactions are rare and happen most often in teenage or young adult males, usually within one week of receiving an mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (*Pfizer or Moderna). Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart. Most patients respond well to treatment of their symptoms and feel better within a few days.

statistical chart showing verified cases of myocarditis for people under 18 in the US after receiving the COVID vaccine.

Myocarditis and pericarditis occur more often after the second dose of an mRNA vaccine primary series. To reduce the risk of heart complications, males ages 12-39 may consider waiting eight weeks after receiving their first dose to get their second dose.

As for booster doses, one reader from the survey expressed concern that “booster shots have a higher risk of complications like myocarditis. It seems that COVID is becoming less severe with the new Omicron variants, so I believe the booster shot is of higher risk to me at this time than becoming infected with COVID.”

statistical chart on myocarditis occuring less often after a booster dose than after the second dose of a primary series in boys under 18

Additionally, data from 40 health care systems found that the risk of cardiac complications was significantly higher after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination for both males and females in all age groups, according to the CDC.

Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) is a rare but serious adverse event that can result from receiving a Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccination. TTS causes blood clots in large blood vessels and low platelets (blood cells that help form clots). It has occurred in approximately four cases per  1 million J&J doses administered.

As of May 31, 2022, 586 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the United States. Nearly 19 million of those were J&J. The CDC has identified nine deaths that may have been caused by the J&J vaccine. In most cases, mRNA vaccines are preferred to the J&J vaccine.

“Any vaccine or other medication has side effects, and COVID-19 vaccines are no exception,” Cieslak said “But serious side effects are rare, and life-threatening COVID-19 has been all too common. That’s why we recommend vaccination.”

Vaccines are available every Wednesday in June at the Malheur County Health Department, 1108 SW 4th St., Ontario, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. They will also be available from noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 22 at the Vale Senior Citizen Center, 100 Longfellow St. S., in Vale. Call 541-889-7279 for more information.

Community workshop to learn about children’s vaccines


Join us for a virtual community workshop where you can learn about children’s vaccines from father and naturopathic physician, Max Cohen, N.D. We do not tell people what to do; we listen to your concerns, hear your questions, and provide evidence-based information. The topics covered are guided by your questions and include vaccine ingredients, schedules, and safety.
June 9, 2022, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. MDT. Registration is limited.
Sign up today!   REGISTER

Booster doses for 5-to-11-year-olds available Wednesday

Children age 5-11 are now eligible for a COVID-19 booster, which will be available Wednesday during the Malheur County Health Department’s Walk-in Wednesday clinic, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday.

  • Children ages 5-11 who are not immunocompromised should get a booster dose at least five months after receiving the second dose in their primary vaccine series.
  • Children ages 5-11 who are immunocompromised and have received their third primary series dose, should get a booster dose at least three months after receiving the third dose in their primary vaccine series.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, 401 children age 5-11 in Malheur County have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, of 2,875 children of that age living in the county.

“Boosters are especially likely to benefit children who are at high risk for severe disease,” said Paul Cieslak, medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at OHA. “Boosters may also prevent children from spreading the virus to loved ones who are at high risk.”

Since the start of the pandemic, 15,000 children ages 5 through 11 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 180 have died. Booster doses restore the immune system and extend protection from COVID-19 infection and severe illness.

“With more than 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are safe and effective for children

The effectiveness of the two-dose series in preventing infection from the Omicron variant wanes over a few months. Boosters were shown to increase antibodies against Omicron in children 5-11 years of age to 36 times the level they had after the second dose.

“Most important, though, is to get that primary series into kids who haven’t had it yet,” said Cieslak.

Vaccination is the best way to protect children from severe illness and the long-term effects of COVID-19 that are still not fully understood.

If you have any questions about COVID-19 vaccines or boosters for children ages 5 through 11, please submit them here. The OHA is unable to answer every question, but will try to answer those that will inform a wide audience. Additionally, the FDA is expected to meet next month to review requests from Moderna and Pfizer to authorize their COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old. Feel free to submit questions about that as well.

What we know about variants BA.4 and BA.5

We’re closely monitoring BA.4 and BA.5, the Omicron subvariants of the virus that causes #COVID19. Here’s what we know.

Layering COVID-19 protections, such as staying up to date with vaccines and boosters and wearing a mask around people who are not in your household, is the best way to increase your protection level and reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

Boosters for 5-11-year-olds approved

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, authorizing a single booster dose for children 5 through 11 years old, whose last dose was at least five months prior. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Committee on Immunization Practices forwarded a recommendation to the CDC director, which was approved, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup reviewed the recommendation, Thursday evening.

The decision goes into effect today, May 20, and states:

  • Children ages 5 through 11 who are not immunocompromised should get a booster dose at least five months after receiving the second dose in their primary vaccine series.
  • Children ages 5 through 11 who are immunocompromised (and who have received a third primary series dose) should get a booster dose at least three months after receiving the third dose in their primary vaccine series.

Oregon Health Authority (OHA) estimates that there are more than 337,000 Oregon children ages 5 through 11. As of Thursday, 36.5% of children in this group had completed their vaccination series.

“Boosters are especially likely to benefit children who are at high risk for severe disease,” said Paul Cieslak, medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at OHA. “Boosters may also prevent children from spreading the virus to loved ones who are at high risk.”

Since the start of the pandemic, 15,000 children ages 5 through 11 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 180 have died. Booster doses restore the immune system and extend protection from COVID-19 infection and severe illness.

“With over 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky.  

Changes to second booster guidelines

The CDC this week also strengthened its guidelines for getting a second COVID-19 booster dose.

  • People age 12 and up who are moderately to severely immunocompromised should receive a second booster dose at least four months after their first booster dose.
  • Adults age 50 and up should receive a second booster dose at least four months after their first booster dose.
  • When the CDC initially approved a second booster dose for the above groups, the agency said people “may” choose to get a second booster dose. Now the agency says people in the above groups “should” get a second booster dose. The agency cited rising case numbers and a substantial increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations for older Americans in this change.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are safe and effective for children

The effectiveness of the two-dose series in preventing infection by the Omicron variant wanes over a few months. Boosters were shown to increase antibodies against Omicron in children 5–11 years of age to 36 times the level they had after the second dose.

“Most important, though, is to get that primary series into kids who haven’t had it yet,” said Cieslak.

Vaccination is the best way to protect children from severe illness and the long-term effects of COVID-19 that are still not fully understood.

You can find a vaccine provider by visiting Get Vaccinated Oregon, the CDC’s Vaccines.gov site or by visiting your local pharmacy. You can also call 211, text ORCOVID to 898211 or email ORCOVID@211info.org.

If you have any questions about COVID-19 vaccines or boosters for children ages 5 through 11, please submit them here. We are unable to answer every question we receive, but we try to answer those that could inform a wide audience. Additionally, the FDA is expected to meet next month to review requests from Moderna and Pfizer to authorize their COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old. Feel free to submit questions about that as well.

Contact your child’s pediatrician to discuss a booster dose, or go to a local pharmacy. People wanting booster doses for their 5-11-year-olds can also come to the Malheur County Health Department, 1108 SW 4th St., Ontario, Ore., any Wednesday between 9 a.m. and noon, and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and walk-in to the vaccination clinic.

Vaccines available Tuesday and Wednesday

A vaccine clinic will be held Tuesday, May 17, at the Nyssa Senior Citizens Center, beginning at 11:30 a.m. It is open to anyone age 5 and older, and will have all doses of all three brands of COVID-19 vaccine.

This Wednesday and every Wednesday, people needing vaccines can walk in to the Health Department clinic, 1108 SW 4th St. in Ontario, Oregon, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. All childhood vaccines and most adult vaccines are available upon request.