Fact or Fiction: Do survivors of COVID-19 get more severe reaction to the vaccine?

PITTSBURGH — People who’ve survived COVID-19 get some natural immunity to the virus, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommend they get the vaccine.

That has some wondering what the impact will be on their system, which already has antibodies.

New research may offer some answers. COVID survivors tend to have a more severe reaction to getting the vaccine. They are more likely to report headache, fatigue, chills, fever and muscle pain after getting their first dose, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Dr. Brian Lamb with Allegheny Health Network says the stronger symptoms are not cause for concern because they show your body is ramping up its immunity.

“That’s actually a natural response from your immune system. So that’s just your immune system just coming to life, really building up. It’s not something that should discourage anyone from getting the shot,” Dr. Lamb said.

For COVID survivors the first dose is more like the second dose for those who’ve never had COVID, because they already have some antibodies from natural immunity.

Lingering loss of taste & smell

One of the hallmark signs of COVID-19 for people who have mild cases is losing your sense of taste and smell. Unfortunately, new research shows that strange symptom can last up to five months for some people.

“Unfortunately, what we saw at the beginning (loss of taste and smell) were considered mild symptoms and what people were hoping for, but what we’re seeing is those milder symptoms last even longer, so it gets frustrating,” Dr. Lamb said.

Scientists are still uncertain if this is due to lingering inflammation in the nasal passages or if the virus kills some of the cells in the olfactory bulb, the nasal portion of the brain.

The good news is most people do eventually regain their sense of taste and smell and return to normal.

Vaccine offers hope to long-haulers

About 10 to 30% of people who get COVID continue to experience symptoms, like headaches, fatigue and brain fog for months after recovery. They’ve become known as COVID long-haulers.

Now, it looks like the vaccine could offer some hope. A survey by Survivor Corps, a group of COVID long-haulers, showed about 40% improved after getting the vaccine.

“Right now, there are several studies going to see whether that (the vaccine) can actually help with these long-haul symptoms by clearing it out, by boosting your immune system and getting rid of any virus that may still be hiding in your body,” said Dr. Lamb.

The studies are still preliminary, but they are offering a glimmer of hope to COVID long-haulers.