Beyond its devastating physical health repercussions, the COVID-19 pandemic has also ushered in a near-global mental health crisis. Rates of depression, stress, and anxiety are sky-high right now, and there’s no wonder why considering the viral marathon we’ve all been running for close to a year now.
The development and approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines believed to be roughly 94-95% effective represent a legitimate avenue out of this pandemic, and tens of millions all over the world breathed a collective sigh of relief as nations recently began distributing vaccines to health workers and the elderly.
Now, however, a new study just released by the Association for Psychological Science reports that the very mental health issues the coronavirus has caused to skyrocket may end up mitigating the effectiveness of vaccinations to a certain extent.
Researchers say if a person is feeling particularly stressed out or depressed upon vaccination, it may take longer for the vaccine to take effect and the protection it provides may not last as long as it should.
On a positive note, study authors say it’s possible to combat the negative vaccine effects linked to poor mental health by getting in a vigorous exercise session and a good night’s sleep 24 hours before being vaccinated. Both exercise and adequate sleep have been shown to boost the immune system, so engaging in such activities before vaccination will help you put your best immune system foot forward, so to speak.
Both exercise and adequate sleep have been shown to boost the immune system, so engaging in such activities before vaccination will help you put your best immune system foot forward, so to speak.
When someone is feeling depressed, stressed out, anxious, lonely, etc, all that negativity takes a toll on the immune system. Consequently, that can hurt vaccine efficiency. For any vaccine to take effect, a healthy and robust immune system is necessary. In fact, the connection between poor mental health/an unhealthy lifestyle in general and diminished vaccine effectiveness is nothing new. Prior research dating back decades has noted such a relationship in regards to other vaccines.
“In addition to the physical toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” says lead study author Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University. “Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviors and emotional stressors can alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response. The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors.”
There’s certainly a tinge of cruel irony to these cautionary findings. The coronavirus has sparked so much despair, uncertainty, and sadness over the past 12 months. Now, all that negativity may end up making it harder for COVID-19 vaccines to do their job.
To be clear, researchers aren’t saying that a coronavirus vaccine will be totally ineffective if someone is depressed or stressed out when they’re vaccinated. The vast majority of people will gain protection upon being vaccinated, but for those in a poor mental state it may take longer for the vaccine to take effect and its protection may wear off sooner.
“The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable,” explains senior study author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University. “It’s possible to do some simple things to maximize the vaccine’s initial effectiveness.”
Regarding the long-term effectiveness of any vaccine, it all comes down to antibodies. A vaccine is intended to initiate an immune system response and jumpstart the production of antibodies. As long as those antibodies stick around, in this case, COVID-19 antibodies, the individual remains immune.
According to prior research, the team at OSU says getting in some meaningful exercise and a full night’s sleep 24 hours before vaccination should be enough to ensure the vaccine takes hold quickly and elicits a strong immune response.
“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective,” Madison concludes. “Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors.”
In summation, even if you feel like your mental health has remained strong and steady throughout this pandemic, it won’t hurt to hit the sheets an hour or two earlier the night before being vaccinated.
The full study can be found here, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.