News, Culture & Society

Expert warns that heavy drinking can suppress your immune system and weaken Covid shot’s effects 

Why you should NOT toast your vaccination: Expert warns that heavy drinking before or after you get your Covid shot could suppress your immune system and weaken the effects

  • Past research has shown heavy drinking can alter the number of microbes in the gut and can prevent immune system cells from reaching a site of infection
  • In addition, one study found monkeys that drank a lot of alcohol had a poor immune response against a vaccine compared to those that drank moderately
  • One expert recommends the moderate drinkers who get the COVID-19 vaccine should not worry, but advises aginst drinking heavily before or after the shot 

After more than a year into the pandemic, you might feel like celebrating when you get your COVID-19 vaccine. 

But doctors are warning Americans not to drink too heavily before or after being immunized against the virus.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that consuming copious amounts of alcohol can reduce the effects of the coronavirus shots approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, several studies suggest that binge drinking can not only affect the immune system, but also directly suppress it and that drinking ’round the time’ of getting the COVID-19 vaccine could prevent the body from generating antibodies.. 

Past research has shown that chronic heavy drinking can alter the number of microbes in the gut and can prevent immune system cells from reaching a site of infection to mount a response (file image)

Dr Ilhem Messaoudi, director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California, Irvine, spoke to The New York Times effects of alcohol on the immune response.

She said the people who drink moderately – no more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women – have no cause for concern.

One drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, eight ounces of malt liquor and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor. 

‘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. 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.’ 

However, heavy drinkers – men who have four or more drinks daily and women who have three or more drinks – should be concerned.

Consuming alcohol heavily every day can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to the common cold, the flu or other infections.

When alcohol passes through the body and comes into contact with the  gastrointestinal tract, it can alter the number of microbes in the gut, which affects the immune system, because it may get rid of good bacteria that protects you..

Liquor can also prevents immune system cells from reaching a site of infection and destroying bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. 

Because it takes two weeks after your final dose to build up antibodies, a night of heavy drinking could prevent or delay the immune system from doing so.   

In one study, published in the journal Vaccine, Messaoudi and her colleagues gave rhesus monkeys alcoholic beverages for seven months and then vaccinated them against poxvirus.

Results showed that the primates who often drank heavily had very weak immune responses after being inoculated. 

‘They had almost a nonexistent immune response,’ Messaoudi told The Times.

Conversely, the monkeys that drank moderately had very strong immune responses to the shot, likely because research has shown small amounts of alcohol can decrease inflammation and improve cardiovascular health.