Can You Drink Alcohol Before or After Getting the Covid-19 Vaccine?

Moderate drinking can be healthy, but when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine, should you skip alcohol altogether? Here's what you should know.

This long year of lockdown is coming closer to an end: Scientists have done the unthinkable by developing a Covid-19 vaccine in less than a year. Before this, the quickest vaccine developed was for the mumps—and that took four years.

However, it will still be some time before we’re in the clear, thanks to vaccine shortages and limited appointments across the nation. (Here’s how to get the Covid-19 vaccine depending on where you live.) In the meantime, it’s important to not only educate yourself on the vaccines available to you, but also how and if your lifestyle choices play a role in how effective the vaccine will be. (Want to learn more about the new Covid-19 vaccine?) And one question on people’s mind: Could alcohol interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine?

How alcohol affects your immune system

No matter what type of vaccine you’re getting, whether it’s the flu shot or either dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, heavy alcohol consumption can blunt your immune system response and potentially prevent the vaccine from giving you full protection. This is why experts discourage drinking before getting any type of vaccination.

“Sustained heavy drinking lowers your immune system and as a result, could lower your immune response from the vaccine,” says Mariea Snell, assistant professor of nursing and the assistant director of the doctor of nursing practice programs at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. “While one or two drinks a day will not have a negative impact, patients could stop drinking a few days before and after the vaccine if they wanted to be sure their immune system was at top performance.”

(Find out how germ experts boost their immune systems.)

In a review of studies, published in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews in 2015, excessive drinking was found to disrupt immune function. The immune system can produce antibodies that help protect against bacteria and viruses that enter from outside the body, like the coronavirus. (Your immune system also produces t-cells and natural killer cells that target mutations that can lead to cancer.)

Even worse: The review emphasized that there is a direct link between heavy drinking and respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19 and pneumonia. (Check out the ways to limit alcohol.)

Silhouetted male sitting in a chair with whiskyJonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Your immune system starts in your gut

One way alcohol hampers your immune system is that it’s hard on your gut—one of the primary lines of defense for your body. A good part of your immune system relies on your gut health, says Jay Bhatt, DO, former chief medical officer at the American Hospital Association and medical director of Medical Home Network in Chicago. “Alcohol can cause inflammation in the gut and can alter the makeup of the microbiome, potentially damaging the microorganisms that maintain immune system health.”

The microorganisms that live in your gut are shaped partly by genetics. But environmental factors like diet and exercise also play a role, according to research in Gut Microbes. It’s your gut that keeps your immune system stable, helping it to eliminate harmful germs trying to come in. It also preserves your body’s existing tissue to prevent diseases or autoimmune disorders from developing within.

When alcohol floods your digestive system, it will start to disrupt your gut’s genetic makeup. This will make your immune system more susceptible to illness and may cause it to have a weaker response when responding to a virus—a cold, the flu, or Covid-19—or a vaccine simulating a virus.

(Find out if the coronavirus lockdown is hurting your immune system.)

“When you get a vaccine, the body generates an immune response” to it, says Dr. Bhatt. Depending on your comorbidities and the medications you are taking, “alcohol could impact the development of those antibodies.”

How much alcohol is too much?

Some good news: A nightly glass of wine probably isn’t cause for concern if you’re next in line to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies excessive drinking as consuming four drinks in one sitting for a woman and five for a man. Heavy drinking is defined as having eight or more drinks in a week for women and 15 for men.

“In general, it’s recommended to have less than seven small drinks [eight ounces or less] per week,” says Dr. Bhatt. “If you exceed that, it may be possible that your immune system won’t work as effectively in the event of an infection.” This can range from feeling symptoms like fatigue longer than you normally would to hampering the efficacy of the vaccine in protection against coronavirus.

(Here’s who should skip the Covid-19 vaccine and why.)

Watching your alcohol intake during Covid-19 vaccination

You’ll want to avoid heavy drinking or binge drinking for your overall health. But, Dr. Bhatt says, it’s especially important to watch your alcohol intake the week leading up to your first Covid-19 vaccine dose and a month after getting the second dose to be extra safe.

“Casual drinking won’t impact your reaction to the vaccine,” says Snell. “In fact, the participants for the vaccine trials were not asked to refrain from drinking as part of the study.” There is also no mention of avoiding alcohol on the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine fact sheet or the Moderna fact sheet.

The verdict? If you want to play it completely safe, steer clear of cocktails during your vaccination process. This will give your immune system the best chance to develop the antibodies you need to stay safe against Covid-19. For those who are otherwise healthy and look forward to a drink a few nights a week, you can say cheers to good health in 2021 with peace of mind.

Next, here are the vaccine myths you can ignore.

Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Mumps" Mariea Snell, DNP, assistant professor of nursing and the assistant director of the doctor of nursing practice programs at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Alcohol Research: Current Reviews: "Moderate alcohol consumption and the immune system: a review"
  • Jay Bhatt, DO, former chief medical officer at the American Hospital Association and medical director for Medical Home Network in Chicago
  • Gut Microbes: "The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity"
  • CDC: "Excessive Alcohol Use"
  • Food and Drug Administration: "Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine"
  • FDA: "FACT SHEET FOR RECIPIENTS AND CAREGIVERS EMERGENCY USE AUTHORIZATION (EUA) OF THE MODERNA COVID-19 VACCINE TO PREVENT CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19) IN INDIVIDUALS 18 YEARS OF AGE AND OLDER"

Colleen Travers
Colleen Travers is a metrics-driven digital writer and editor specializing in fitness, health, wellness and beauty. She's savvy in content strategy and creating timely, buzzworthy content on anything from the hottest fitness trends to breaking down the latest health research into easy, digestible tips to live better today.