INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — COVID-19 vaccine side effects can include headache, fatigue and nausea.
But new research suggests there may be a different reason people are experiencing these symptoms post-jab.
A recent study published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association shows many of these side effects may all be in a person’s head. Scientists call it the nocebo effect — also commonly referred to as the placebo effect.
The nocebo effect is when a person exhibits unpleasant side effects after taking a treatment with no therapeutic effect. This phenomenon is happening after people are getting the coronavirus vaccine.
In a recent study by scientists at Harvard Medical School, researchers claim more than half of negative side effects post-COVID vaccination are attributed to the nocebo effect rather than the vaccine itself.
To make their case, researchers combined data from 12 studies. In each study, patients were split into two groups. Some patients were given the vaccine. Others were given a saline injection.
Placebo recipients reported side effects such as headache and fatigue after the first dose 36% of the time. After the second shot, 16% of those given the placebo said they experienced headaches.
Scientists attribute this psychological response to the heightened anxiety of getting vaccinated and the hyper-alertness and expectation that these side effects are inevitable.
In a statement in a previous interview lead author Dr. Ted Kaptchuck said: “Telling patients that the intervention they are taking has side effects that are similar to placebo treatments for the condition in a randomized controlled trial actually reduces anxiety and makes patients take a moment to consider the side effects.”
While some scientists say vaccination side effects should be withheld from patients in an effort to reduce anxiety, Kaptchuck disagrees. He says honesty and transparency is key and will help alleviate anxiety, not exacerbate it.