Stress and depression can potentially dampen the efficacy of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine, according to a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused over 1.97 million deaths and there have been more than 91 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. A vaccine rollout is currently underway, including vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech and by Moderna. Previous research has found that loneliness, poor health behaviors, depression, and stress can weaken the immune system, thus lowering the efficacy of certain vaccines for various illnesses.

According to the study, new research suggests that this may be true of the COVID-19 vaccines as well, which are in the early stages of global distribution. Research has found that although the approved vaccines produce a robust immune response, not all recipients will immediately gain their full benefits.

Environmental factors and a patient’s physical and mental health can weaken immune response, according to the study. This is particularly concerning as the COVID-19 pandemic has also triggered a mental health crisis as people deal with isolation, economic stress, and uncertainty about the future. Some of these factors were found to weaken efficacy, especially among the elderly.

The approved COVID-19 vaccines have shown efficacy in the range of 90% to 95%. However, investigators are concerned that behavioral factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes for immunity to build, which can shorten the duration of immunity. According to prior research, if a patient engages in vigorous exercise and gets a good night’s sleep the night before vaccination, the immune system is operating at peak performance, which may help the ensure the strongest immune response happens as quickly as possible.   

"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," said lead author Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University, in a press release. "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."

REFERENCE
Depression and stress could dampen efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines [News Release] January 13, 2021; Columbus, Ohio. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-01/afps-das011321.php.