Drinkaware issues precautionary advice about alcohol and the Covid-19 vaccine

DATE PUBLISHED

18th January 2021

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The following precautionary advice is kept under review in respect of any new evidence that is available.

Our advice remains that everybody should take the vaccine when they are offered it – regardless of whether they drink any alcohol or not.

Monday, 18 January 2021 (updated)

The independent medical advisory panel for alcohol education charity, Drinkaware, urges everybody to get vaccinated if they are offered the vaccine – regardless of whether they drink any alcohol or not. They also ask people to consider the possible benefits of not drinking alcohol before and after being vaccinated.

The panel’s chair, Dr Fiona Sim says: “First and foremost, we urge you to listen to the advice to stay at home as much as possible, to stop the spread of the virus.

“Then, we encourage you very strongly to get vaccinated if you are offered a Covid-19 jab, regardless of whether you ever drink alcohol.”

While there is no published data about the specific effects of alcohol on the human body's response to the Covid-19 vaccination, there is some evidence that drinking alcohol, especially regular heavy drinking, could interfere with your body’s ability to build immunity in response to some vaccines.1,2

Dr Sim continues: “We are very keen to stress how important it is for you to get vaccinated. We do know that, since the onset of the pandemic last year, between one fifth and one third of people have been drinking more than they do usually. 3,4,5,6,7 So, as far as alcohol is concerned, we advise that you consider not drinking for two days before, and up to two weeks after you've been vaccinated, to try to ensure your immune system is at its best to respond to the vaccine and protect you. But it's really important to know that, even if you do drink, you'll still benefit from having the jab, so please don't turn it down.

“If you are a regular heavy drinker, the risks to you of becoming seriously ill if you do contract Covid-19 are particularly high, so please keep your appointment for vaccination if you are offered one.

“Long term heavy drinking reduces immune protection, and specifically for respiratory infections, which include Covid-19.

“If you do contract Covid-19, it is best not to drink any alcohol until you have recovered fully, to protect your immune system to allow it to fight the virus.

We would reassure anybody who has already been vaccinated and has had an occasional drink since, that they should still benefit from the vaccination. And we would stress the importance of attending your appointment for the second dose when it comes around.”

Drinkaware advises that if people do choose to drink alcohol, they should do so within the UK Chief Medical Officers' low risk guidelines for both men and women – that is no more than 14 units of alcohol each week, spread across the week and ensuring that several days a week are drink-free. Even a single episode of heavy (binge) drinking can impact on your immune system in the short term.8

If you have specific questions regarding COVID-19 vaccines more generally, the British Society for Immunology has created a free, easy to read guide on vaccinations for COVID-19 for the general public. The guide explains how vaccines work and answers your common questions as well as providing up-to-date information on the current approved COVID-19 vaccinations in the UK. Download the guide

(NOTE: This text was updated on 18 January, with a Q&A and additional references added)

Q&A
- Will the vaccine work if a person drinks alcohol?


Anyone offered the vaccine should have it. The Covid-19 vaccines currently available in the UK are highly effective in preventing serious Covid-19 disease. From what we know about alcohol’s impact on the body’s immune system,9,10 it is plausible, if a person drinks alcohol before or after vaccination, especially regular heavy drinking, that protection from vaccination could be less than optimal.

There may be some benefit in not drinking before and after vaccination, therefore the panel’s advice is for people to consider a break from drinking. The advice is precautionary and is to try to ensure every person’s immune system is at its best to respond to the vaccine. But we want to emphasise that we believe that everyone who is offered the vaccine should accept it.

- Why two weeks?

Information on vaccines indicates it takes time for the body to build immunity following vaccination.11,12 You will want your immune system to be able to respond to build immunity to the best of its ability and not risk any reduction in its immune response as a result of alcohol. The UK Government's advice suggests it takes a week or two for your body to build up this immunity following vaccination,13 so our precautionary advice is to consider having a break from alcohol for this period.

- What is the evidence behind this precautionary advice?

While there is so far no published data about the effect of alcohol on the Covid-19 vaccine specifically, there is some evidence that drinking alcohol, particularly sustained heavy drinking, adversely affects the immune system 14,15,and may impair the body’s ability to build immunity in response to vaccines. What Drinkaware says on alcohol and the immune system.

Further reading on this topic:

References

[1] Simou, E., Britton, J., & Leonardi-Bee, J. (2018). Alcohol and the risk of pneumonia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ open, 8(8), e022344.

[2] Zimmermann, P., & Curtis, N. (2019). Factors that influence the immune response to vaccination. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 32(2).

[3] Gunstone, B., Samra, S., & Newbold, P. (2020, October). Monitor 2020. Drinkaware and YouGov. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/research/drinkaware-monitors/drinkaware-monitor-2020-drinking-and-the-coronavirus-pandemic

[4]Drinkaware warns of health risks as almost third of drinkers are exceeding drinking guidelines. (2020, December 30). https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/professionals/press/drinkaware-warns-of-health-risks-as-almost-third-of-drinkers-are-exceeding-drinking-guidelines

[5] Jacob, L., Smith, L., Armstrong, N.C., Yakkundi, A., Barnett, Y., Butler, L., McDermott, D.T., Koyanagi, A., Shin, J.I., Meyer, J. and Firth, J. (2020). Alcohol use and mental health during COVID-19 lockdown: A cross-sectional study in a sample of UK adults. Drug and alcohol dependence, 219, 108488.

[6] Daly, M., & Robinson, E. (2020). High-risk drinking in midlife before versus during the COVID-19 crisis: longitudinal evidence from the United Kingdom. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

[7] Institute of Alcohol Studies. (2020, June). Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK Summary of emerging evidence from the UKhttp://www.ias.org.uk/uploads/pdf/IAS%20reports/sb28062020.pdf

[8] Is it OK to drink while on medication? | Drinkaware. (2020). https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/lifestyle/is-it-ok-to-drink-while-on-medication

[9] Sarkar, D., Jung, M. K., & Wang, H. J. (2015). Alcohol and the immune system. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 37(2), 153.

[10] Pasala, S., Barr, T., &Messaoudi, I. (2015). Impact of alcohol abuse on the adaptive immune system. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 37(2), 185.

[11]"For many diseases, one dose of vaccine does not give full protection. Some vaccines do work with a single dose, but it can take two or three weeks for the body to develop good levels of antibodies to protect against the disease."

FAQs about vaccines | Vaccine Knowledge. (2019, January 17). https://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vk/faqs-about-vaccines

[12]“When the human body is exposed to an antigen for the first time, it takes time for the immune system to respond and produce antibodies specific to that antigen.”

How do vaccines work? (2020, December 8). https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/how-do-vaccines-work

[13] “It may take a week or two for your body to build up some protection from the first dose of vaccine.”

What to expect after your COVID-19 vaccination. (2021, January 15). GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-vaccination-what-to-expect-after-vaccination/what-to-expect-after-your-covid-19-vaccination

[14] Sarkar, D., Jung, M. K., & Wang, H. J. (2015). Alcohol and the immune system. Alcohol research: current reviews, 37(2), 153.

[15] Pasala, S., Barr, T., &Messaoudi, I. (2015). Impact of alcohol abuse on the adaptive immune system. Alcohol research: current reviews, 37(2), 185.