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Should You Avoid Alcohol If You’re Getting A Coronavirus Vaccine?

By Graham Lawton

Jon Super / AP / Shutterstock

Jon Super / AP / Shutterstock

According to a leading Russian scientist, drinking alcohol after receiving a coronavirus vaccine can significantly weaken the immune response and potentially render the vaccine ineffective. “We strongly recommend avoiding alcohol for three days after each injection,” Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya National Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, which is developing the Sputnik V vaccine, told New Scientist.

This warning applies not only to the Sputnik V vaccine, but to all Covid-19 vaccines and indeed all other vaccines. “It’s very obvious,” he said.

The existing scientific literature on alcohol and the immune system shows that excess alcohol is an immunosuppressant, making people who drink a lot more susceptible to infection. “Heavy drinkers have many problems and poor immune function is one of them,” says immunologist Eleanor Riley of the University of Edinburgh, UK.

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In studies, about 10 percent of people don’t become immune after receiving the Sputnik V vaccine, and the number is similar for other vaccines. The reasons for this are unknown. Whether alcohol could be a factor has not been investigated.

A 2012 study by Swedish researchers found that low to moderate alcohol consumption slightly suppressed the inflammatory response to a bacterial pneumonia vaccine, but had no effect on the immune response. The researchers defined this alcohol consumption as an average intake of less than 30 grams per day, roughly the same as two double vodkas.

Gintsburg said that drinking 300 grams of vodka – about 12 UK measures that total around 120 grams of alcohol – suppresses antibody production. But a glass of champagne would be fine, he said.

Last week Anna Popova, the head of the Russian Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-being (Rospotrebnadzor), sparked controversy in Russia when she advised Russians to join in two weeks before their first vaccine shot and for another week stop drinking alcohol three weeks after the second. There is a three-week break between the injections, making a total of eight weeks on the cart.

Gintsburg told New Scientist that this was too strict. “Of course we are not talking about a complete ban on alcohol during vaccination. This is only a reasonable restriction on consumption until the body has developed its own immune response to coronavirus infection, ”he said. “It is important to understand that excessive alcohol consumption can significantly reduce immunity, making vaccination less effective or even meaningless. In addition, this applies not only to Sputnik V, but to any other vaccine as well. “

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund that finances the Sputnik V program, says: “It applies to all vaccines, there is nothing specific about Sputnik vaccines that makes him more susceptible to alcohol consumption.”

Some people might want to play it safe, says Paul Klenerman of Oxford University. “There is no doubt that chronic alcohol excess has a significant impact on many aspects of immunity,” he says. “What is not clear is whether even a small amount would have a significant effect [real-life settings]. So it’s plausible and you could just be very careful and say avoid it. Different countries may have different guidelines. “

New Scientist contacted a volunteer on the UK arm of the study of the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. There were no instructions to abstain from alcohol at the time of vaccination, the volunteer said.

A volunteer for the British Imperial College London clinical vaccine study also said there was no need to avoid alcohol. However, an information sheet for study participants states that people with “suspected or known current alcohol or drug addiction” cannot participate in the study. It doesn’t say why.

Pfizer said there is no alcohol consumption warning related to the vaccine developed with BioNTech. AstraZeneca, which has signed a contract to work with the Sputnik V project, did not respond to a request for information on alcohol and vaccinations.

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