How alcohol may affect responses to the COVID-19 vaccine

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Experts in Russia and the United Kingdom have warned that people should avoid drinking alcohol for a brief period of time when being vaccinated against COVID-19. But United States experts say casual or moderate amounts of alcohol consumption will not affect immune response, writes Ashley Welch for Healthline.

Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use should be avoided around time of vaccination and for general health, points out the article published on 16 January 2021.

As the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines is being administered across the United States and many other countries, questions have arisen over whether alcohol consumption will affect people’s immune responses to the jab.

Experts in the United Kingdom recently warned that people should avoid drinking alcohol in the days before and after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“You need to have your immune system working tip-top to have a good response to the vaccine, so if you’re drinking the night before, or shortly afterwards, that’s not going to help,” Dr Sheena Cruick, an immunologist at the University of Manchester, told UK Metro.

A Russian health official went even further last month and advised citizens being vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine that they should abstain from alcohol for two months, writes Healthline.

However, the vaccine’s developer, Dr Alexander Gintsburg, later commented that this advice was too extreme. Via a tweet, Gintsburg advised refraining from alcohol three days after each injection, guidance that he says applies to all vaccines.

How alcohol may affect response to the vaccine

Experts in the United States, however, say that for people who do not use alcohol excessively, this is likely unnecessary.

“There is no need to abstain from alcohol after either dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr Sandro Cinti, an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine. “There is no evidence or CDC guidance to suggest that this needs to be done.”

The Healthline story continues: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Both vaccines require two doses: the Pfizer vaccine administered 21 days apart and the Moderna vaccine given 28 days apart.

Though heavy alcohol consumption is a concern for health in general, individuals are not asked to refrain from drinking casual or moderate amounts of alcohol before getting vaccinated, says Dr Hana El Sahly, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology and medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the national co-chairs of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial.

“Alcohol consumption was not assessed as a variable in the large Phase 3 clinical trial,” she told Healthline. “We do not expect that occasional or moderate amount of alcohol ingestion to affect the response to the vaccine. And we are not requesting from subjects or the general public to abstain from alcohol around vaccination time.”

Avoid excessive alcohol use near the time of vaccination

But Dr Christopher Thompson, associate professor at Loyola University Maryland’s Department of Biology who specialises in immunology and microbiology, warns that excessive alcohol use should be avoided around time of vaccination.

He notes that though there is no specific data yet around alcohol and the COVID-19 vaccine, “most of the available data on how alcohol impacts the immune system and vaccine responses suggest that, in general, people should avoid binge drinking and heavy drinking around the time of the vaccination,” he said, Healthline reported.

“Ideally, this would be avoided for at least a week before the first dose and one month after the second dose.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on occasion for men and four or more alcoholic drinks for women. Consuming 15 or more drinks a week for men and eight or more drinks a week for women is considered heavy drinking.

“Especially with heavy alcohol consumption, the immune system does not work as well as it should,” Thompson said. “We see functional dysregulation of many immune cells while also seeing an increase in inflammation and pro-inflammatory molecules throughout the whole body.”

Alcohol research studies have also shown that alcohol can cause inflammation in the gut and can alter the makeup of the microbiome, potentially damaging the microorganisms that maintain immune system health. Heavy alcohol use is also associated with a number of other health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and liver disease.

Moderate drinking may provide some benefits

The Healthline story continues: On the other hand, in some studies, moderate alcohol consumption (up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men) has been shown to improve a person’s response to vaccines.

“Moderate drinkers tend to show better antibody production and cytotoxic (CD8) T cell responses,” Thompson said. “In addition, moderate alcohol consumption may increase the amount of antiviral cytokines, or small chemical messengers that help to coordinate the immune response.” However, he noted that researchers do not know if these slight improvements are short term or long lasting.

The bottom line, Thompson said, is that for people who rarely drink or drink in moderation, there’s no need – from an immunological perspective – to change much of what they are doing when getting the COVID-19 vaccine, writes Healthline.

“A glass of wine or a beer here and there should not impair most responses to the vaccine and, in fact, may slightly improve the response,” he said. “That said, it is probably best to be well-hydrated on the day of the vaccine and for a few days afterward to help deal with the mild side effects that most people experience.”

 

Healthline story – How Alcohol May Affect Your Response to the COVID-19 Vaccine (Open access)

 

 


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