Getting your COVID-19 vaccine is a big deal, and you probably have a lot of questions about what you should and shouldn’t do before and after the important event. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance, and some of it might be surprising.
For example, the agency recommends avoiding OTC pain meds, like ibuprofen and Tylenol, in anticipation of vaccine side effects prior to the shot, but says it’s fine to take them within reason after you receive your dose, especially if you experience uncomfortable symptoms like a fever, headache, or muscle pain.
Why? It has to do with those all-important antibodies and how certain substances can mess with the development of a strong immune response. Understandably, plenty of people have wondered whether or not it’s safe to drink alcohol after vaccination, as some research shows that booze can impact the immune system when consumed excessively (think: a night of binging).
The CDC does offer some guidance for people who have been newly vaccinated, but it focuses more on the possible side effects, information about ingredients, and what we know about COVID-19 immunity—no mention of booze, though.
So, what’s the deal? Can you reach for that glass of wine to celebrate your step toward immunity—or is it better to wait? We asked infectious disease doctors to set the record straight.
First, a refresher: How do the available COVID-19 vaccines work?
Just a recap: There are three COVID-19 vaccines available for you to choose from. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, aka Comirnaty, is the only COVID-19 vaccine that has been officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available under an emergency use authorization, and both vaccine makers are currently seeking FDA approval.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to mount an immune response in the body. This tech doesn’t inject live or inactive virus into your body, but rather encodes a piece of genetic material from the novel coronavirus’ spike protein (the portion of the virus that latches onto human cells), according to the CDC. The mRNA then serves as a set of instructions for your cells, so they can also start developing proteins.
As a result, your body perceives the proteins as invaders (even though no threat exists), and starts pumping out antibodies that can uniquely fight the coronavirus. Your body goes on to eliminate the proteins and the mRNA, but the antibodies stick around (it’s unclear for how long, as research is ongoing). If you do get infected in the future, your body will then be better prepared to fight off COVID-19.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine works differently, as it modifies an existing adenovirus, which usually causes colds, with the spike protein. (The resulting adenovirus doesn’t have the ability to reproduce in the human body, meaning it can’t cause COVID-19 or any other illnesses.) When the modified adenovirus is pulled inside your cells, it travels to the cell nucleus, where the protein gene is read. It’s then copied into mRNA and your cells begin making spike proteins, causing your body to produce antibodies.
So, can you drink alcohol after you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
There’s no official government recommendation on this, but the experts we talked to say it’s not really something to worry about, within reason. Research on both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines didn’t require trial participants to avoid alcohol, and the findings didn’t mention people having issues after drinking.
“There is no evidence that alcohol reduces the formation of antibodies,” says Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.
While there are not recent or COVID-specific studies to go on, there is a 2015 analysis of research alcohol and the immune system, published in the journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. It obviously came out well before the COVID-19 vaccines, but found that alcohol impairs several aspects of the immune system in people who are “chronic” drinkers, i.e. those that drink often and usually heavily. It also found that binge drinking can mess with several areas of your immune system, keeping it from functioning as well as it should. It’s important to note that all of this references drinking a lot, which isn’t recommended for your health anyway.
While having a little alcohol post-vax is OK, Dr. Watkins does recommend watching your alcohol intake in the days after getting vaccinated for a different reason. Remember: Some people may experience flu-like side effects like a fever, chills, fatigue, and a headache and “being intoxicated or hungover will make things less pleasant,” he says. If you’re generally feeling unwell, loading up on water will definitely be your best bet. But, if you feel OK and you want to have a glass of wine to celebrate, you should be just fine to do that, Dr. Watkins says.
That’s also important to keep in mind when reporting your vaccination side effects, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
He explains that the CDC encourages people who have been vaccinated to sign up for its V-Safe After Vaccination Health Checker, and it’s possible for someone to confuse hangover symptoms with vaccine side effects.
So, if you feel pretty good and want to celebrate your vaccine with a drink (preferably at home!), just keep it within recommended daily guidelines: two drinks for men and one for women. Cheers to being fully vaccinated!
This article is accurate as of press time. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus develops, some of the information may have changed since it was last updated. While we aim to keep all of our stories up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news. Always talk to your doctor for professional medical advice.
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