Alcohol and its Effects on the COVID-19 Vaccine

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Last Updated - 05/07/2024

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Updated 05/07/2024

Key Takeaways

  • While no conclusive evidence links alcohol consumption directly to COVID-19 vaccine response, heavy drinking can weaken immune response and exacerbate vaccine side effects.
  • Chronic heavy drinking and binge drinking can diminish the immune system’s effectiveness, potentially increasing susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like ARDS, pneumonia, and sepsis.
  • While there are no official recommendations regarding alcohol intake before or after COVID-19 vaccination, experts suggest avoiding heavy drinking to optimize immune response.
  • Side effects of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters can include pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. Rare but severe allergic reactions may also occur.
  • Seek immediate medical help if you experience severe allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine, such as difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, hives, swelling of the airway, or a widespread rash.
  • Ensure adequate sleep, nutrition, and hydration after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or booster to support recovery and optimize immune response.

While some news outlets report that there are risks to drinking alcohol around the time you receive a COVID-19 vaccine or booster, there is currently no conclusive evidence supporting this claim as of May 2024. However, heavy drinking can affect immune response and worsen vaccine side effects, such as fatigue, nausea, and headache. 

Effects of Alcohol on COVID-19 Vaccine Response

Ongoing research is showing a possible connection between consuming alcohol and the body’s immune response to the COVID-19 vaccine.

A 2023 review article highlights the complexity of this relationship. Factors such as the timing and quantity of alcohol consumption, age, and sex can influence the immune system’s response. The study referenced by Mark J. Mulligan et al. also observed a decrease in lymphocytes following the first dose of the BNT162b1 vaccine. This decrease could be worsened by alcohol’s negative effects on these cells.

Additionally, the review discusses the different mechanisms by which COVID-19 vaccines stimulate the immune system and considers how alcohol and its metabolites might affect these processes. For instance, heart problems may be worsened by alcohol after mRNA-based vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. This is mainly in people who drink heavily and do not know they are in the early stages of heart disease.

The review also notes that consuming alcohol can increase the production of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). This enzyme can trigger an inflammatory response and affect the body’s ability to respond to vaccines, including those designed for COVID-19. Additionally, vaccines based on adenovirus vectors, which include some COVID-19 vaccines, may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.

It’s important to understand how drinking alcohol impacts the effectiveness of vaccines, especially as new vaccine types are developed and booster shots become more common. Some studies suggest that COVID-19 vaccines could become seasonal, like flu vaccines, which could impact guidelines around alcohol consumption. Ongoing studies by the Global COVID Vaccine Safety Project are looking into vaccine safety and the risk of side effects, including how alcohol consumption may affect vaccines.

Alcohol and Immune Response

A 2016 review showed that limited drinking may improve vaccine response, but chronic heavy drinking and binge drinking reduce immune response. 

Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol, also known as chronic alcohol consumption, can negatively impact the immune system. This is because it can decrease the levels of certain crucial substances that help immune cells travel to sites of infection. As a result, the immune system may become weakened and less effective at fighting off illnesses like: 

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis

Acute alcohol consumption (binge drinking) can initially increase the number of peripheral blood monocytes and the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-α. However, a few hours after drinking, monocytes decrease, and anti-inflammatory IL-10 levels increase. This indicates that although some parts of the immune system may get a temporary boost, drinking alcohol ultimately leads to a weakened immune response.

While more research is needed, it is still important to understand the effects of alcohol on the immune system, especially how it could impact the effectiveness of vaccines and our body’s ability to fight infections. The way we drink alcohol, whether it’s frequently or occasionally, can have different impacts on our immune health and susceptibility to diseases.

Alcohol and the COVID-19 Booster

As with the COVID-19 vaccine, there is no official guidance for abstaining from alcohol before getting your COVID-19 booster. However, avoiding drinking before receiving a booster may be a good idea if only to prevent the worsening of side effects from the shot. 

Possible Side Effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster

Common side effects of mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) and protein subunit vaccines (Novavax) include

  • Pain, soreness, and/or redness at the injection site
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Crying, irritability, and loss of appetite may also be seen in infants and children.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

If you have questions or concerns related to the COVID-19 vaccine or booster, your healthcare provider can advise you on which one to get, when to get them, and what precautions you should take before and after your appointment. 

Severe allergic reactions are rare but possible and can be life-threatening. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the airway (tongue, uvula, larynx)
  • Widespread rash

Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption Around COVID-19 Vaccination

There are no official recommendations surrounding drinking before or after the COVID-19 vaccine. However, there is evidence that excessive alcohol intake can have detrimental effects on immunity and may potentially reduce vaccine effectiveness. The World Health Organization advises against heavy alcohol use due to its impact on overall health, including the immune system.

Experts recommend the following guidelines for alcohol consumption around the time of COVID-19 vaccination:

  • Avoid heavy drinking or binge drinking, as it can weaken the body’s immune response.
  • Consider abstaining from alcohol for a period before and after vaccination to ensure the best possible immune response.
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious foods, and stay hydrated during recovery from the COVID-19 vaccine or booster. 
  • If you experience any adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine within a few hours of receiving it, seek medical help right away. This could be a sign of a life-threatening emergency.
  • Stay informed about the latest research and guidelines from reputable sources such as the CDC and other health organizations.

It’s important to note that individual responses to alcohol can vary based on factors such as age, sex, body composition, and overall health. Therefore, it’s best to consult with healthcare professionals regarding personal alcohol consumption and vaccination plans.

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