After a long year and plenty of anticipation, obtaining the Covid-19 vaccine can be cause for celebration, which for some may indicate pouring a beverage and toasting to their new immunity. But can alcohol interfere with your immune reaction ?
The short answer is that it depends on how much you drink.
There’s absolutely no evidence that having a drink or two can leave some of the present Covid vaccines less powerful. Some studies have even found that over the longer term, small or moderate amounts of alcohol might actually benefit the immune system by reducing inflammation.
Heavy alcohol consumption, on the other hand, particularly over the long term, can suppress the immune system and potentially interfere with your vaccine reaction, experts say. Since it may take weeks following a Covid shot for the body to create protective levels of antibodies against the novel coronavirus, anything that interferes with the immune response would be cause for concern.
If you’re really a moderate drinker, then theres no possibility of getting a drink around the time of your vaccine, said Ilhem Messaoudi, director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California, Irvine, who has conducted research on the effects of alcohol on the immune reaction. “But be very aware of what average drinking really means. It’s harmful to drink massive quantities of alcohol since the effects on all biological systems, including the immune system, are pretty severe and they happen pretty quickly after you get out of that moderate zone. ”
Moderate drinking is generally defined as no more than two drinks a day for men and a maximum of one drink per day for women, whereas heavy drinking is defined as four or more drinks on any day for men and three or more drinks for women. Keep in mind that one “standard” beverage is considered five ounces of wine, 1.5 oz of distilled spirits, or 12 ounces of beer.
Some of the first concerns about alcohol and Covid vaccination began following a Russian health official warned in December that people should avoid alcohol for 2 weeks before getting vaccinated and then abstain for another 42 days later. According to a Reuters report, the official claimed that alcohol could hamper the body’s ability to develop immunity against the novel coronavirus. Her warning sparked a fierce backlash in Russia, which has among the world’s highest drinking prices.
In the United States, some experts say they have heard similar concerns about whether it’s safe to drink around the time of vaccination. Weve been getting plenty of inquiries from our patients about this, said Dr. Angela Hewlett, an associate professor of infectious diseases who directs the Covid infectious diseases team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Understandably, people who are receiving these vaccines ought to be certain they ’re doing all the proper things to maximize their immune response. ”
Clinical trials of the Covid vaccines which are now approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration didn’t specifically look at whether alcohol had any impact on the effectiveness of the vaccines, Dr. Hewlett said. It’s possible that there’ll be more information on that in the future. But for now, most of what is known comes from previous research, including studies that examined how alcohol affects the immune system in humans and whether it hinders the immune response in animals that received other vaccines.
One thing which is clear from studies is that heavy alcohol consumption impairs the immune response and increases your susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections. It prevents immune cells from traveling to sites of disease and carrying out their responsibilities, like destroying viruses, bacteria and infected cells; makes it much easier for germs to invade your cells and leads to a host of other problems.
In contrast, moderate drinking does not seem to have this effect. In 1 study, scientists subjected 391 people to five different respiratory viruses and found that moderate drinkers were less likely to develop migraines, but not if they were smokers.
In another study, Dr. Messaoudi and colleagues provided rhesus monkeys access to alcoholic drinks for seven months and then looked at how their bodies reacted to a vaccine against poxvirus. Much like people, some rhesus monkeys enjoy alcohol and will drink a whole lot, but others show less interest and will limit themselves to small amounts. The researchers found that the animals that were chronically heavy drinkers had a weak reaction to the vaccine. They’d almost a nonexistent immune response, Dr. Messaoudi said.
The animals that consumed only moderate levels of alcohol, however, generated the most powerful response to this vaccine, even in comparison to the teetotalers that consumed no alcohol at all. Studies in rats have found a similar pattern: People consuming large quantities of alcohol have only a weak immune response to infections compared to animals given moderate amounts of alcohol or none whatsoever. Other studies have found that if people drink moderately, it appears to reduce inflammatory markers in their blood.
Another reason to moderate your alcohol intake is that heavy drinking — along with the hangover that can ensue — could possibly amplify any side effects you might have from the Covid vaccine, including fever, malaise or body aches, and cause you to feel worse, said Dr. Hewlett of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Hewlett chose not to drink after getting the Covid vaccine. But she said that people should feel free to imbibe so long as they drink within reason.
Having a glass of champagne probably wont inhibit any immune reaction, she said. “I think using a celebratory beverage in moderation is fine. ”
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