Is this the light at the end of the tunnel; the proverbial finish line of our marathon with COVID-19?? We sure hope so. As a terrible death toll passes 500,000 in the U.S., more than 208 million doses of the COVID vaccines have already been administered. Still, many of us have questions about the vaccine, how to get it, when to get it, or whether we should.
We wanted to know what to expect about our own doses as runners and athletes, so we called on Dr. Adam Culver, a former collegiate basketball player and now a physician with Novant Health Waxhaw Family Medicine and Sports Medicine. He gave us a quick rundown on what runners need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Are they safe?
This is the first question on everyone’s mind when they consider their opportunity to sign up for the vaccine, and the answer is a resounding YES. Unless you’ve had an extreme reaction to vaccines in the past, or a known allergy to its ingredients, a vaccine is the way to go — whether you are a runner or lead a more sedentary lifestyle.
“The vaccine is the most pro-active thing you can do to keep yourself and others around you safe,” says Dr. Culver. We’ve all heard about doing our part to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe this year, and a vaccine is one more step. “The vaccine is beyond washing your hands, keeping your social distance, and being smart about common sense things.”
Will it hurt?
Yes, sometimes getting shots makes us feel like kids again — we can be a little squeamish at the unknown. This time, it’s not the pain of the injection, but the reaction that some of us fear. There will be some soreness at the injection site after the first dose, says Dr. Culver, but it should feel better after a day or two. Some patients report also feeling “icky” for a day or two after the second dose — achy, sore, tired — but that’s a good sign, too.
“You should think of those reactions as a sign those vaccines are doing what they need to do, to help your immune system,” says Dr. Culver. “The vaccine creates antibodies, and you feel kind of icky when that reaction flows through your body.” Anticipating this, the Centers for Disease Control added a page on reactions to its website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect/after.html
Can I go for a run after I get my vaccine?
You can still exercise if you feel up to it, says Dr. Culver, but don’t be afraid to let your body rest if you need to.
“If you are at high volume or intensity,” he says, “just reduce the volume or intensity until you feel back to normal.” The vaccine doesn’t make you any more vulnerable to illnesses than anything else you do, but those use to heavier training loads (26-50+ miles a week) have a higher chance of getting respiratory infections, with or without the vaccine. Again, there’s no point in exhausting yourself if you don’t feel well. Your best bet is to schedule your recovery and rest days for the day of and day after the vaccine.
What if I have a race?
Get your vaccine as far in advance of your race as possible, advises Dr. Culver.
“The sooner you get your vaccine, the better it is for you and everyone else,” he says. “The more time you have after completing your vaccine, the more immunity you’re going to have, and less icky feeling.”
If you’re up to it, there’s no reason why you can’t run that in-person event you’ve been looking forward to all year — even if it falls in the 3-4 weeks between your vaccine doses. It’s key to keep up the safety measures we’ve gotten used to until we know more about transmission by vaccinated groups, so keep wearing that mask when you’re in a group, keep some distance between yourself and other runners, and wash up afterward.
“There’s not a lot of research around (about) if you can still be a carrier, so it’s better to be on the safe side,” says Dr. Culver.
Dr. Culver and decades of medical statistics remind us that side effects from a COVID vaccine — or any other vaccine — are miniscule when compared to illness or even death caused by the disease itself. More case studies are showing long-term cardiopulmonary effects of even short-lived and mild COVID cases, and that can take you out of running for weeks or months.
It’s important to check with your doctor about any condition that you’re concerned about, and read updated guidance from the CDC often. Because this is a “novel” coronavirus, researchers are always learning new things. You can get the latest here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/faq.html
Novant Health also has an excellent Q & A feature about COVID and the vaccine called “Arms Coalition” – get it? — on its YouTube page, updated weekly. Check it out here: https://care.novanthealth.org/arms-against-covid/
Even more information, including registration details, is on their main COVID information page: getvaccinated.org.
Overall, the message is clear: Keep observing the 3 W’s, get your vaccine when it’s available, and rest if you need to.