Experts counter charity advice not to drink for two weeks after Covid jab

Lizzie Roberts
·4 min read
NHS staff prepare to administer a Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Depaul UK homeless shelter in Oldham, Greater Manchester -  Peter Byrne/PA Wire
NHS staff prepare to administer a Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Depaul UK homeless shelter in Oldham, Greater Manchester - Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Drinking alcohol before or after having the coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to impact the effectiveness of the jab, experts have said.

It comes after Drink Aware issued guidance from its independent medical advisory panel warning people not to drink “at least two days before, and at least two weeks after” being vaccinated, “to ensure your immune system is at its best to respond to the vaccine and protect you”.

The comments were made by Dr Fiona Sim in her capacity as chair of the advisory panel. She is also a Senior Clinical Adviser at NHS England and a visiting professor at the University of Bedfordshire.

The Drink Aware guidance adds there is “little data” about the impact of alcohol on the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine.

But Dr Sim states: “Chronic heavy drinking reduces immune protection, and specifically for respiratory infections, which includes Covid-19.

“For greatest benefit from the vaccine, it is prudent for you not to drink any alcohol for a few days before, and for at least two weeks after, you've been vaccinated.”

But other experts have said this is not necessary and is not recommended in the labelling of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jabs.

“It wouldn’t affect the immune response to be honest,” Dr Gillies O'Bryan-Tear, of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said.

“People who drink heavily are somewhat immunosuppressed… (but) it’s certainly not advice around vaccinations I am aware of.”

He added that Drink Aware “must have scientific reasons” for issuing the advice, but added: “From my point of view I can’t see why they’ve recommended that”.

“We would not deny the vaccination to alcoholics,” he said. “It'll still work, they still need to be protected.”

Professor Gary McLean, of the School of Human Sciences at London Metropolitan University and a visiting professor at Imperial College London, said getting “hammered” directly after taking the vaccine wouldn’t be advised.

But added “usual drinking within guidelines wouldn't be wouldn't be too negative” on a person’s immune system and is unlikely to impact the effectiveness of the Covid vaccine.

It is also not recommended to avoid alcohol days before the seasonal flu jab, he added.

“I wouldn't say that having a couple of pints before getting a flu vaccine would be too negative on the effects of the vaccine. It just doesn't make sense to me,” he told The Telegraph.

Binge drinking can impact your immune system from working at its best for a period, but coronavirus vaccines have been designed to release an immune response “slowly over time… it’s not going to be all at once,” Prof McLean said.

Adding that: “A normal, healthy lifestyle, with minimal drinking is okay for the vaccine to have an effect.”

Dr Stephen Baker, of Cambridge University, said alcohol can have “suppressive effects” on the body’s immune response.

But he added: “As with all things in moderation, a moderate amount of alcohol is probably not going to do a lot of damage, but going out on a large bender the day before or post-immunisation for any vaccine is probably not a good idea.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE said: “Drinking a small amount of alcohol, in line with the CMOs low risk guidelines, has not been shown to impair the immune system.

“There is no published scientific evidence of the effect of alcohol before and after (the) vaccine on the immune response to Covid-19 vaccination but it is advisable not to drink heavily before being vaccinated.”

How many people in the UK have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine?
How many people in the UK have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine?

Drink Aware cited three studies as supporting it’s guidance, but none seem to offer conclusive evidence of the impact of alcohol on the effectiveness of vaccines.

One study, from researchers at the Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, found the “relative effectiveness” of vaccines did not differ by smoking or alcohol status.

Another study, assessing the effectiveness of a pneumonia vaccine among patients with arthritis who drank or smoked, found low to moderate alcohol consumption had “no impact on immune response”.

While a 2019 review of a number of studies which analysed the impact of behaviours, such as drinking, on a person’s immune response to vaccines reported the data for its impact was “inconsistent”.

Responding to The Telegraph Dr Sim said the advice was offered "as a precaution" and there is "no published data" about the impact of drinking alcohol on the Covid vaccine.

"We continue to stress that it is crucial that anybody who is offered a Covid-19 vaccine should go and have it, regardless of whether they drink any alcohol," she said.

"We also want to reassure that anybody who has already been vaccinated and has had an occasional drink since should not be unduly concerned by this advice.”