Getting a Flu Shot? Skip the Advil, Aleve, for Mild Discomfort

Oct. 26, 2020

It’s best to avoid common pain relievers after a flu shot because they can dilute the power of the vaccine, according to research conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Medical syringe and pill tablets

Ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin and naproxen (Aleve) dampen the production of necessary antibodies that protect the body against illness, scientists said.

Many over-the-counter pain and fever-reducers are classified as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which act in part by blocking the cyclooxygenase-2 (cox-2) enzyme. But blocking the cox-2 enzyme is not a good idea in the context of vaccination, because the cox-2 enzyme is necessary for high production of B-lymphocytes.  When people take medications like Advil for discomfort at the injection site they’re also inadvertently reducing the ability of B cells to make the antibodies that protect against the flu.

“Unless your health care provider tells you otherwise, it’s best not to take pain relievers one or two days before the flu vaccine and for a week afterward,” said David J. Topham, Ph.D., a study author and professor in the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology at URMC.

What about low-dose aspirin? Individuals who take aspirin for cardiovascular or vascular disease should talk to their doctors before stopping even low-dose aspirin. And people who take medications such as Celebrex for arthritis or other chronic pain also should consult their physicians.

Scientist Richard Phipps, Ph.D., who led the research, gained national attention in 2009 when he presented the flu data at a scientific meeting, and then published two scientific articles in the journals Vaccine and Immunology.