- Experts have said there is no link between alcohol consumption and Covid-19 vaccine effectiveness
- The vaccine information leaflets also don’t contain any information suggesting a link between the two
- However, medical professionals stress that heavy drinking and binge drinking should be avoided
With the Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out rapidly in many parts of the world, many people are left wondering whether consuming alcohol before or after receiving the jab could interfere with the body's immune response.
The good news is that, currently, there is no evidence to support any claims that consuming alcohol is unsafe, or that it can render the jab less effective. On the flip side, experts have, however, stressed that it would depend on how much you drink.
UK regulator gives all-clear
A spokesperson from the UK’s health regulatory authority, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), this week confirmed that there is no evidence that alcohol has any effect on how well the vaccine works, The Telegraph reported.
“There is currently no evidence that drinking alcohol interferes with the efficacy of the Covid vaccines. We would advise anyone concerned about this to talk to their healthcare professional,” she said.
The medical regulator was responding to advice circulated on social media, based on guidance issued by Dr Fiona Sim, chair of the advisory panel to the alcohol education charity, Drinkaware. The UK-based organisation recommended that people cut out alcohol for up to two weeks after getting the jab.
The patient information leaflets from the NHS and the vaccine manufacturers also don’t contain any information suggesting such a link.
In December 2020, a Russian health official also advised citizens not to have a drink for two months before receiving the Sputnik V vaccine. But Dr Alexander Gintsburg, the developer of the vaccine, responded to this advice, saying that it was too extreme. Instead, Gintsburg said in a tweet: “We’re not talking about a complete ban on alcohol, moderate consumption is allowed.”
Positive effect on immune system
Some past studies have actually suggested small to moderate amounts of alcohol may benefit our immunity over the long term by reducing inflammation.
This 2014 study also suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may result in positive effects such as decreased mortality and improved cardiovascular disease.
“Interestingly, accumulating evidence also supports an immune-boosting effect of moderate alcohol,” the researchers wrote. They did, however, note that although there are data to support an immune-enhancing effect of moderate alcohol, “we must be cautious in their interpretation since they originate from only a handful of studies”.
They defined moderate alcohol consumption as having up to one drink per day for women (0.25–0.5g/kg) and up to two drinks per day (0.25–0.1g/Kg) for men.
Dr Ilhem Messaoudi, director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California, spoke to The New York Times about the effects of alcohol on the immune response.
“If you are truly a moderate drinker, then there's no risk of having a drink around the time of your vaccine,” she told The Times. “But be very cognizant of what moderate drinking really means,” she added.
Heavy drinking over long periods, and binge drinking, on the other hand, have been shown to suppress the body's immune system.
“It's dangerous to drink large amounts of alcohol because the effects on all biological systems, including the immune system, are pretty severe and they occur pretty quickly after you get out of that moderate zone,” said Messaoudi.
And, as this article by The Times points out, since it can take weeks after you receive the vaccine for your body to generate protective levels of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid disease, anything that interferes with the immune response should be avoided.
Binge drinking is defined as drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short time (typically two hours). It has been found to inhibit the production of signalling molecules that are vital to the immune system, putting an individual at a high risk of serious infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that to qualify as binge drinking, the amount of alcohol should be more than 60g of pure alcohol – equivalent to about three-quarters of a bottle of wine.
Since this type of drinking weakens the body's ability to fight off infections, it goes without saying that we should take care to always avoid it for our general health.
People with SUD at risk of infection
Earlier this year, Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town told News24: "Alcohol intoxication, and especially repeated episodes of excessive drinking (binge drinking), are known to trigger inflammation and dysregulation of the gut microbiome and thus do have effects on the immune system."
Scriba added that chronic abuse of alcohol also elevated the risk of a number of severe diseases including cancer and liver cirrhosis. "As such, it is best to avoid excessive and repeated alcohol consumption at the best of times. This would also apply for the period around receiving vaccinations," he advised.
However, persons with substance abuse disorders, including alcohol, are typically at greater risk of bacterial and viral infection, including Covid infection, said Scriba, and further stressed: "It is more important that such individuals receive Covid-19 vaccines than to avoid or delay vaccination until they manage a lean period.”
Similarly, Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation, Public Health England, cautioned earlier this year: “There is no published scientific evidence of the effect of alcohol before and after [the] vaccine on the immune response to Covid-19 vaccination, but it is advisable not to drink heavily before being vaccinated.”