If You Feel This After Your Vaccine, Your Antibody Response May Be Low
This one thing may stop you from forming a robust immune response.
The COVID vaccines all tout high levels of efficacy, offering up to 95 percent protection depending on the brand. However, these numbers reflect their overall effectiveness across the population, and can't tell you how your own body will react to the COVID shot. Factors such as age, sex, comorbidities, and genetics can lower your level of antibodies, making your immune response less effective overall. Now, researchers have identified one additional factor that could significantly impact your antibody response to the vaccine—and their warning may surprise you. Read on to find out whether your own protection could be compromised, and what to do about it, if so.
A team of researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) investigated the ways that psychological factors and behaviors can affect the immune system when presented with a range of vaccine types, including influenza, hepatitis B, typhoid, and pneumonia.
They conducted a meta-analysis that reviewed 49 vaccine studies dating back 30 years, and confirmed that stress "impairs physical health in a variety of ways, primarily by hampering the human immune response." Stress can interfere "with the development of antibodies against the pathogen," says one of the study's authors, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, a clinical health psychologist specializing in psychoneuroimmunology at OSU College of Medicine.
The study's researchers further extrapolated that the efficacy of the COVID vaccine may, too, be affected by high levels of stress. "These findings suggest that with the COVID-19 vaccine, when you're more stressed and more anxious, it may take a little longer to develop antibodies. So you should allow more time before assuming you're protected," Kiecolt-Glaser said in a statement.
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Besides lessening and delaying the development of antibodies following vaccination, the team also found that stress can lower their durability long-term. In other words, if you're stressed out at the time of your vaccination, your antibodies are more likely to show up to the party late and leave early.
Thus far, representatives from Pfizer and Moderna have confirmed that their COVID vaccines offer at least six months of protection (and counting). However, individual responses can vary depending on physical and psychosocial factors.
Another drawback of heightened stress at the time of your vaccination is that you may experience increased side effects as a result.
The OSU study found that individuals who were stressed or depressed more frequently experienced lethargy, malaise, and irritability following their vaccines. These symptoms and others tended to last for a longer period of time in individuals with high stress levels or depression.
If you've been stressed out during the pandemic, you're hardly alone. A survey published in Feb. 2021 by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 84 percent of American adults reported experiencing at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress in the two weeks prior to being surveyed. Forty seven percent reported anxiety, 44 percent felt sadness, and 39 percent experienced anger. Two thirds of adults said that they are overwhelmed by the state of current events in the U.S.
However, hope is not lost. The OSU team suggests interventions that may help you regain a sense of calm and "get the most out of the COVID-19 vaccine." Getting a massage, journaling for stress management, exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep can all lower stress levels.
"The evidence suggests that making these changes—even in the short term, right around the time of vaccination—could influence how our bodies respond," writes Kiecolt-Glaser. "The time to act is now."