Depression and Stress Could Impact COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy


Emotional and health behavior can potentially alter the body’s ability to develop an immune response.

In a recent report published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, investigators have demonstrated that depression, loneliness, stress and poor health behaviors can weaken the immune system, lowering the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. This bolsters decades of previous research that has shown similar results with other vaccines.

While rigorous scientific evidence has proven that the vaccines developed for the current pandemic are highly effective and are able to produce a vigorous response by the immune system, some who receive them will not see their full benefit. Certain factors that impact individuals, like genetics, mental and physical health, as well as environmental ones have the ability to slow a vaccines response due to a weakening of the immune system.

As the virus continues to spread across the globe, a rise in mental health crises due to various stressors including economic issues, an uncertainty about the future, and isolation due to lock down initiatives pose a particular threat in weaking vaccine efficacy, most worryingly in elderly populations.

"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," Annelise Madison, the lead author on the paper said. "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."

The combination of behavioral and psychological stressors can lengthen the time that it takes to develop an immunity the vaccines provide. They can also make the duration of immunity when eventually developed shorter.

However, simple adaptions to a daily routine, for example exercise and proper sleep, can help to reduce the negative effects of these factors.

"Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioral interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness. Even shorter-term interventions can be effective," Madison said. "Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for a poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors."

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