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Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine: After care

For people with cancer

This webpage will give you information about:

Last updated: April 8, 2021. The webpage may change as we continue to receive new information.

What should I do right after I get the vaccine?

You will wait in the vaccine clinic for 15 minutes after you get your vaccine to be sure you are feeling well. If there is a concern about an allergic reaction to the vaccine, you will be asked to wait for 30 minutes.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Hives (bumps on the skin that are often very itchy)
  • Swelling of the face, tongue or throat
  • Trouble breathing

Staff will ask you to wait in the clinic area for 15 minutes.

  • Tell the clinic staff if you feel unwell while you wait.
  • Keep your mask on and stay at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from others.
  • Use the alcohol-based hand rub to clean your hands before leaving the clinic.
  • Wait the full 15 minutes after you get your vaccine before you drive. Do not drive if you feel unwell.

What should I expect in the next few days?

Like other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine can cause side effects although not everyone will have these. Most side effects are minor. Side effects are more common and you may notice them more after the second dose of the vaccine. Side effects normally last for 1 to 3 days.

Common side effects

Common side effects for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and what to do:

Common side effect What to do, if anything
Pain, redness and swelling on your arm where you got the vaccine Use a cool damp cloth on your arm where you got the vaccine

Take pain or fever medication (like acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to help with pain or fever, if needed.

If you are getting intravenous (IV) chemotherapy, oral chemotherapy/oral targeted drugs or immunotherapy, see section titled: 'For people taking cancer treatment drugs.'

Muscle pain
Joint pain
Diarrhea (loose, watery poo)

Serious side effects

It is rare to have serious side effects after getting the vaccine. However, if you have any of the signs or symptoms below, get medical attention right away or call 911 if you feel very unwell.

Symptoms of a serious side effect include:

  • Hives (bumps on the skin that are often very itchy)
  • Swelling of the face or mouth
  • Trouble breathing
  • Very pale colour in your skin and very, very drowsy (or sleepy)
  • Very high fever (over 40°C)
  • Convulsions (spasm or shaking) or seizures (fit of uncontrolled movements)
  • Numbness or feeling of 'pins and needles'

If you have any concerns about any reactions you have after getting the vaccine, contact your health care provider. You can also contact Public Health Ontario to ask questions or report a bad reaction to the vaccine. Call Public Health Ontario at: 647-260-7100 or toll free at: 1-877-543-8931.

For people taking cancer treatment drugs

Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy, oral chemotherapy/oral targeted drugs or immunotherapy

You have a fever if your temperature taken by mouth (oral temperature) is:

  • 38.3ºC (100.9ºF) or higher at any time
  • 38.0ºC (100.4ºF) or higher for at least one hour

Do not drink any hot or cold liquids or eat any hot or cold foods before taking your temperature.

DO NOT take medicines that contain acetaminophen (like Tylenol, Nyquil, Sudafet, Vicks, Midol, Alka-SeltzerPlus, Dristan) until you speak with your doctor or nurse first. These medicines can 'hide' your fever.

What do I look for?

  • A fever:
    • While a fever could be a side effect of the vaccine, it could also be related to your cancer treatment.
    • A fever may be the first and only sign of infection. Even if you feel well, you can still get sick quickly.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Mouth sores
  • A new cough
  • Bad odour or green sputum (mucus that you cough up)
  • Cloudy or smelly urine (pee) or trouble urinating (peeing)
  • Diarrhea

Who do I call?

Odette Cancer Centre at 416-480-5000 Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

After-hours symptom management line at 1-877-681-3057 Monday to Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. or on Saturday, Sunday or holidays.

If you are unable to reach your health care team within 2 hours, go to your nearest emergency room. Tell them what cancer treatment drugs you are taking.

Things to remember after you get the vaccine

Even after you get the vaccine, continue to follow safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask
  • Stay at least 2 metres (6 feet) from others
  • Limit or avoid contact with others outside your household

It takes time for your immune system to respond to the vaccine and offer protection.

The Pfizer vaccine is given in 2 doses. You will be given your second dose appointment date and time before you leave the clinic today.

You will get a printed record that shows you had a COVID-19 vaccine today. Keep the record and this information in a safe place. Bring the COVID-19 vaccine record with you for your second shot.

The information above has been adapted from “Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine After Care Sheet” (2021), with permission from Cancer Education, UHN Patient Education.