People who receive the Covid-19 vaccine should abstain from drinking before and after having the jab, an expert in immunology has advised. This is because drinking booze can alter the way the immune system works.
As part of a new BBC documentary, The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System, which aired on January 6, emergency medicine specialist Dr Ronx Ikharia took blood samples before and after drinking three glasses of Prosecco. She found the quantity of alcohol was enough to reduce the levels of white lymphocyte cells in the blood by half.
This is a problem, because such cells are crucial in fighting off attacks to your body from viruses and other pathogens. If they are reduced or damaged by alcohol consumption, this can weaken the immune response.
Professor Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, told the show: “You need to have your immune system working tip-top to have a good response to the vaccine, so if you’re drinking the night before, or shortly afterwards, that’s not going to help.”
In December, Russian health official Anna Popova made headlines after she suggested people should stop drinking alcohol at least two weeks before getting the first of two vaccinations, and should continue to abstain for a further 42 days after. Later, Alexander Gintsburg, the Sputnik vaccine’s developer, said people should refrain from alcohol three days before and after the two injections required.
Dr Tony Rao, a researcher in alcohol and dementia at King’s College London, and consultant psychiatrist, tells HuffPost UK: “There is not yet any equivalent guidance in the UK, but we know that drinking between approximately 1 and 2 units of alcohol per day is associated with an 8% higher risk of community acquired pneumonia compared with non-drinkers.
“As alcohol is known to suppress the immune response, the safest option would be not to drink for a few days before and after the vaccine has been given, although we need further research to be able to inform us as to the precise length of time required.”
Such research might also better inform our knowledge about the role of alcohol in the increasing susceptibility of Covid-19 infection in people not yet vaccinated, he adds.
There is currently no evidence to suggest abstaining from alcohol consumption in the days prior to or following vaccination would have a beneficial effect on the efficacy of the vaccine.
Even if you’re not having the vaccine any time soon, giving Dry January a go – where you abstain from alcohol for the month – could be beneficial for your health, particularly with a new variant of Covid-19 spreading rapidly in the UK.
In her book Immunity: The Science Of Staying Well, immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi discusses how alcohol might also impact immunity because of its influence on sleep and our gut health.
“People who drink alcohol excessively tend to be at an increased risk for infectious diseases, take longer to recover from illnesses and have more complications after surgery,” she writes.
“Heavy alcohol intake can also affect organs that regulate immunity, such as the liver, which produces antibacterial proteins that ward off bacterial diseases and bone marrow stem cells, which make new immune cells.”
This might help explain why people tend to come down with illnesses after the Christmas period and university students come down with Freshers flu in their first few weeks of term.