What Researchers Are Saying About Alcohol's Effect On COVID-19 Vaccines

Definitive answers on what drinking alcoholic drinks does to the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines aren’t available quite yet, but some health researchers are saying people should be cautious, especially around the time they get their shot. 

“If [white blood cells are] getting knocked down by a whole bunch of binge drinking, then yes, [the vaccine is] not going to work as well,” Dr. Christian Ramers of Family Health Centers of San Diego told WMAR 2 News. “So I think it’s theoretically plausible that alcohol could impair, ultimately, your ability to respond to the vaccine, or to any other infection for that matter.” 

Dr. Ramer’s use of ‘theoretically plausible” is important to note as there are no published studies on the effects of alcohol on the COVID-19 vaccines specifically, and other data available offer mixed results. One study, though, found that long-term heavy drinkers made fewer antibodies to the vaccine against strep bacteria. A study published in 2015 found that drinking more than four or five drinks in one sitting could have short-term effects on a person’s immune system. 

Though the CDC currently does not offer official guidance on drinking alcohol before or after getting the coronavirus vaccine, some doctors say heavy drinking at the time of your vaccine or right after may impact your experience of potential side effects. Some people have reported flu-like side effects like fatigue, fever, or chills. Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician at Northeast Ohio Medical Center told Yahoo News, “being intoxicated or hungover will make things less pleasant.” 

One group in the UK has suggested people forego alcohol two days before and up to two weeks after receiving the vaccine, as an added precaution, but Dr. Mark Sawyer, a member of the US FDA’s vaccine advisory panel, expressed skepticism about a person needing to completely stay away from alcohol. 

“I think it’s plausible a binge drink in particular could cause a temporary effect, but again, I don’t think it’s going to be of a substantial nature,” he told WMAR 2

So what does that mean for people planning to get the vaccine? 

Dr. Sawyer said symptoms that overlap from drinking too much alcohol are not the same thing as alcohol triggering vaccine reactions, and reiterated there’s no evidence available on that yet. 

“No doubt these vaccines cause an array of short-term side effects. Some people get headaches, some people get light-headed, some people hear ringing in their ears. Nausea. All things that could overlap with symptoms with alcohol, especially too much alcohol,” Sawyer explained. 

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Francisco offered this bit of advice on the subject: “I think if you do it, do it in moderation.” 

Though there are no official guidelines on drinking before or after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, health officials have advised individuals who receive the vaccine to be cautious when consuming alcohol in large quantities.

Photo Credit: Getty Images 

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