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Headache, chills, fever – these are just a few of the side effects some have reported after receiving Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.
Why do some people experience more side effects from the vaccine than others?
We’re not quite sure, says Anne Liu, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University.
What we do know are trends, and generally women and young people tend to report more severity of side effects than older people and men.
“That doesn’t mean they have more symptoms, however,” Liu said. Young people and women may simply report their symptoms more frequently.
“I’m going to make a big generalization here, but our culture generally discourages men from calling attention to their symptoms,” Liu said.
As to why younger people experience more symptoms, it could be because they have a stronger immune system.
“The immune system of the elderly tends to weaken over time,” said Liu, which means that their reaction to the vaccine will be less intense.
“If you don’t have side effects, you may have a weaker response,” Liu said.
That doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work. The immune system is complex and multidimensional, and side effects are not the only sign that the vaccine is working.
“Overall, the vaccines are very effective in all of the groups studied,” Liu said.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infection, the drugmakers said.
The question of vaccine side effects raises a second question: why does the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine appear to have more symptoms than the first dose?
According to Dr. William B. Greenough III, a professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine known for his work on cholera, says there is a simple explanation for the increased side effects.
With the first dose, your body begins to build its initial immune response, including the production of antibodies.
But with the second hit, that is, the second exposure to the virus, the big guns of your immune system react.
Once your immune system recognizes the virus [after the second dose], his reaction is going to have a bigger reaction, Greenough said.
This is a sign that the vaccine is working and that your immune system recognizes the vaccine in your body.
With the second dose, your body not only creates antibodies, but also stimulates your lymph nodes and other parts of the body to respond to the vaccine in the tissues, resulting in additional side effects.
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