5 people share their Johnson & Johnson vaccine side effects, from sore arms to chills

Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine clinical trial, volunteer dosed with experimental COVID-19 vaccine
A clinical trial volunteer participates in Johnson & Johnson’s study to test a coronavirus vaccine.

  • All of the COVID-19 vaccines come with the possibility of side effects.
  • Fewer Johnson & Johnson recipients had reactions compared to people in other vaccine trials.
  • Still, Insider spoke with 5 people who had arm pain, chills, or headaches after the J&J shot.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chloe Kathuria, an 18-year-old college student, wrapped herself in a dozen blankets the night she got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I was freezing,” Kathuria told Insider. “For hours I couldn’t stop moving because I was shaking and that was uncomfortable because all my muscles were hurting.”

Kathuria is one of five J&J vaccine recipients who told Insider they experienced side effects after getting the jab. Others have reported unpleasant reactions to the Moderna and Pfizer shots, so no vaccine is without its drawbacks.

Although no one wants to get a fever and chills, experts say these side effects are nothing to be concerned about. Most reactions will go away within a couple of days, and they’re proof that your immune system is doing its job.

If you want to plan ahead, you should prepare to take it easy for a day or two after you get your shot. Kathuria had to skip class the day after her shot, and other recipients said they called in sick from work and other obligations, before returning later in the week.

It’s normal to experience some side effects after a vaccine

Side effects including arm pain, headaches, and fatigue are common post-vaccine. All are signs that your immune system is learning to recognize and respond to the coronavirus, Akiko Iwasaki, who researches viruses at Yale, previously told Insider’s Hilary Brueck.

“When these things are being taken up into a cell, they really trigger sensors that are there to detect viruses,” Iwasaki said. “So you might feel sore in the arm, a little fever. These are usual responses to this sort of innate immune activation.”

Kathuria felt all of the most commonly reported vaccine side effects, and then some: arm pain, dizziness, bad chills, headache, loss of appetite, muscle aches, and fever. Her fever lasted two days, and her arm pain and muscle aches lasted a week.

woman gets johnson & johnson vaccine
A woman receives a Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine from registered nurse Gina Reed at a vaccination center established at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on March 5, 2021.

But not everyone experiences a slew of side effects. In trials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, less than 50% of people reported arm pain after their injections, which is notably lower than 91% of Moderna vaccine recipients with achy arms. An even smaller portion – roughly 38% – of J&J recipients reported headaches and fatigue.

Laura Mclean, 57, didn’t feel any pain in her arm post-injection. However, her side effects started in the middle of the night, when she woke up with chills and a headache. She said she still had chills in the morning and left a volunteer shift early, but fully recovered by dinnertime.

Some people waited for the J&J vaccine in hopes of avoiding side effects

Linda Davis, 73, was eligible to take the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines early on, but she waited until the J&J approval to get vaccinated.

Davis has an autoimmune disease called fibromyalgia, and the medications she’s taken to treat it haven’t sat well.

“It was like somebody took a baseball bat, wound up as hard as they couldn’t hit me in the stomach,” she said of previous reactions.

She feared the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would cause a severe reaction after reading that other people experienced nasty side effects. In comparison, J&J’s trial participants reported fewer serious reactions.

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Participants in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial reported fewer side effects compared to those who got the Moderna and Pfizer shots.

Davis said she “moved heaven and earth” to find a provider who had the J&J vaccine, which meant spending hours on the phone and online. When she finally found the shot, she experienced some arm pain for two to three days after the injection, but no serious side effects.

Pat Wyman also waited for the J&J vaccine because she’s allergic to PEG, an ingredient in both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. Following her doctor’s recommendations, she found a pharmacy with the J&J vaccine and got vaccinated.

After vaccination, Wyman had a high fever, chills, and a headache that lasted up to five days.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat because it is so important for me to feel safer in general,” Wyman previously told Insider.

The side effects were worth getting vaccinated

All of the J&J recipients who spoke with Insider said the temporary side effects were worth the promised return to normalcy.

Christian Mendonca felt tired, cold, and ran a fever 12 hours after his J&J vaccine. Three days after his shot, Mendonca still can’t comfortably raise his vaccinated arm above his shoulder – but he said getting the vaccine was worth it.

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Cristi Hunkler, a retired school teacher receives the vaccine on the first day of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine being made available to residents of Athens, Ohio.

“My wife and I are actually also trying to get pregnant, so just having that one weight off our shoulders before we try to welcome a child into the world is a huge benefit,” Mendonca told Insider.

Once Davis is fully immune to COVID-19, she plans to “scoop my grandchildren up and hold them close.”

Even Kathuria, whose muscle aches and arm pain lasted a week, said the side effects were worth getting vaccinated.

“Two days of a fever is better than having the coronavirus and being hospitalized.”

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Two 13-year-old brothers are participating in Moderna’s vaccine trial for kids. They’re ‘pretty chill’ about it.

preston boys
Gavin Preston (left) and Emmett Preston (right).

  • Emmett and Gavin Preston, 13-year-old brothers, are participants in Moderna’s vaccine trial.
  • Moderna is studying the effects of its coronavirus shot among 3,000 kids from 12 to 17.
  • The brothers said they didn’t want to spread the virus to their mom, who has an autoimmune condition.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At 13 years old, Emmett and Gavin Preston aren’t yet eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved the shots for kids under 16 due to a lack of data.

But the Preston brothers are participants in Moderna’s clinical trial: The company is currently studying the effects of the shot among 3,000 kids ages 12 to 17. A separate trial is testing it in 6,750 children under 12, including babies as young as six months.

Emmett and Gavin, both adopted, received their first shots on February 12 at their local doctor’s office in Charleston, South Carolina, then their second shots one month later. The brothers said they were a bit nervous about the needle but haven’t felt many side effects.

“When they showed me the shot, I was like, ‘What?’ And then when I took it, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not that bad,'” Emmett told Insider.

For a week after each dose, they logged their symptoms into an app so researchers could track their side effects.

“I just felt like my normal self,” Emmett said. By the second time he got vaccinated, he added, he was “pretty chill” about it.

Kids may respond differently to the vaccine than adults

Moderna vaccine
A nurse prepares a coronavirus vaccine shot developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., July 2020.

Moderna’s trials are randomized, double-blind studies, meaning half of the participants get the vaccine while the other half get a placebo, and nobody knows which they’ve gotten.

For some adult participants, side effects were sometimes a clue that they’d gotten more than a saline solution – some felt headache, fever, or chills (indicators that their bodies were reacting and building antibodies). But scientists aren’t sure whether kids will feel side effects to the same degree.

“Children generally respond well to vaccines,” Donna Farber, a Columbia University immunologist, previously told Insider. “They should respond well or comparably to a young adult – and maybe even better.”

Emmett said he had a sore shoulder and “felt a bit run down” after the first shot. Gavin said he had some minor fatigue two days after the second one.

“It went perfectly after all that,” Gavin said. “Nothing has really happened.”

In general, kids aren’t very susceptible to severe illness due to COVID-19. Children represent around 13% of confirmed coronavirus infections in the US, but less than 0.2% of the nation’s coronavirus deaths. Some researchers suspect that’s because kids’ immune systems fight off the virus before it has a chance to replicate widely.

The Preston brothers were on board with the trial right away

Children can be difficult to include in trials, since ethical questions arise if they don’t fully understand what they’re signing up for, and scientists are cautious of any research that could stunt a child’s development. Many parents are not comfortable signing their kids up to participate for the same reasons.

But the Preston brothers are no strangers to clinical trials. For the past few years, they’ve participated in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the US. The study recruits healthy children ages 9 to 10 and observes their brain growth through early adulthood.

So when the Preston boys’ mother, Katie, approached them about getting the Moderna vaccine, they didn’t think twice about it, they said.

“My mom brought it up and I was like, ‘Ooh, that sounds interesting,'” Emmett said.

preston boys
The Preston brothers wait to receive their shots.

Katie said she learned of the trial through a friend who posted about it on Facebook. She emailed her doctor’s office in Charleston to express interest, then heard back a few weeks later.

“We had to go through a little screening process and they said the boys were good, so we went for it,” Katie said.

Emmett and Gavin are less stressed about in-person school now

school closure empty classroom
An empty classroom.

The Preston brothers were motivated to get vaccinated as soon as possible because Katie has an autoimmune condition and both boys have returned to school in-person. They didn’t want bring the virus home.

Coronavirus transmission tends to be low in schools, as long as masks and social distancing are mandatory, but kids can still spread the virus, even if they have no symptoms.

“Just being able to protect myself and my family from coronavirus really makes me feel positive inside,” Gavin said.

He added that he was eager to assist with scientific research, since science is one of his favorite subjects.

When he grows up, he said, “I want to research dementia, Alzheimer’s, anything memory loss related, to try and help those people.”

Knowing that there’s a 50-50 chance they’re vaccinated, both brothers said, has made them less stressed about getting sick at school. Neither wants to return to virtual learning.

“It was really hard to learn online,” Gavin said. “Then when I got in school, my grades started to go up.”

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The US hasn’t authorized AstraZeneca’s vaccine for 2 main reasons. That could change in April.

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French Health Minister Olivier Veran receives the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on February 8, 2021.

  • The US hasn’t authorized AstraZeneca’s vaccine because its trial is still going.
  • Vaccine experts have also questioned inconsistencies in the company’s global studies.
  • AstraZeneca’s US trial results will likely clear up confusion in April.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After more than a dozen countries paused the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine due to concerns about blood clots, the European Medicines Agency concluded on Thursday that the vaccine doesn’t increase the risk of clotting.

The World Health Organization, too, recommended that countries continue to administer AstraZeneca’s vaccine, since the benefits of the shot “outweigh its risks.”

The US, however, never greenlit the vaccine in the first place, for two main reasons. The first is that AstraZeneca’s US trial is still ongoing. The trial was delayed for nearly seven weeks in the fall due to an adverse reaction in a UK participant.

The second is that AstraZeneca’s initial trial results in November puzzled many experts. The company combined data from its Brazil and UK groups, even though they had different sample sizes and demographics. It also averaged the results of two different dosing regimens, one of which was administered by mistake.

Now, scientists hope that results from AstraZeneca’s US trial will clear up much of the world’s confusion. The findings are expected to be released to the public within the next month.

Currently, the US data is being reviewed by an independent monitoring board. If the vaccine is found to be safe and effective, the FDA could authorize it for emergency use in April, Reuters recently reported.

The US trial has more than 30,000 participants

Even if AstraZeneca’s global trials had been free of inconsistencies, the FDA would most likely still have wanted to see the results of the US trial before authorizing the shot.

The US trial is larger than its predecessors in other countries. The study involves up to 32,000 volunteers – roughly the same number as the clinical trials done by Pfizer and Moderna. And it’s only testing one regimen: two full doses.

“The US study is the one that’s going to be the definitive study to tell us how this vaccine works against severe, hospitalized COVID and symptomatic COVID,” Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told STAT.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot
Pascal Soriot, executive director and CEO of AstraZeneca, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on February 26, 2019.

The trial could also shed light on how the vaccine performs among older people. Nearly one-quarter of the US trial participants were over 65, according to Biopharma Dive. Meanwhile, just 12% of participants in AstraZeneca’s UK and Brazil trials were over 55.

Murky data from the UK and Brazil

The FDA requires coronavirus shots to prevent disease in at least 50% of vaccine recipients.

In November, AstraZeneca reported that its shot was 62% effective at preventing COVID-19 among nearly 9,000 volunteers in Brazil and the UK. Those participants received two full doses, but about 2,700 others accidentally got a half dose followed by a full dose. Among that smaller group, the vaccine’s effectiveness rose to 90%.

AstraZeneca averaged the two results, stating that the vaccine was 70% effective.

“To people looking in from the outside, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Dr. Johan Bester, director of bioethics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Medicine, told Insider last month. “We’re either going to give half doses or full doses to people and it will either be one effectiveness or the other.”

AstraZeneca’s shot may be less effective against the variant found in South Africa

In the months since AstraZeneca revealed its global trial results, subsequent analyses have found even more variation in the shot’s effectiveness.

A February analysis that hasn’t been peer reviewed found that the vaccine was 55% effective when doses were given less than six weeks apart, but 82% effective when doses were given at least 12 weeks apart. The results were based on trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK with more than 17,000 volunteers in total.

Denmark COVID-19 AstraZeneca
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in storage in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 11, 2021.

Another study that’s still awaiting peer review indicated that the vaccine was just 22% effective against mild and moderate illness caused by B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa. As a result, South Africa halted its distribution of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. But that study was small, with roughly 2,000 participants.

When it comes to two other prominent variants – B.1.1.7, initially spotted in the UK, and P.1, first identified at a Japanese airport among travelers from Brazil – preliminary data shows AstraZeneca’s vaccine has the same efficacy: between 60% and 90%.

The US trial may not give any more clarity about how well the vaccine works against these three variants, since it’s not yet known how many volunteers wound up getting exposed to those strains during the study. But the fact the trial is happening later than Pfizer’s or Moderna’s means there’s a greater chance that participants in this one were exposed to new variants.

Even in the worst-case scenario, Bester said, the shot will probably be effective enough to meet FDA standards.

“What we’ve seen is promising,” he said. “It is a moderately to very effective vaccine that is cheaper than the other alternatives and gives us another tool in our arsenal to stop people from dying.”

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