Health & Fitness

Why covid-19 vaccines may not ‘save’ everyone

Coovid-19 vaccine.

Summary

  • Even though life is slowly getting back to normal in the country, fear still lingers in many people’s hearts, as no one really knows when the disease might strike.
  • Even though research has shown that existing Covid-19 vaccines are effective against the disease, health experts caution that the vaccines may not be a ‘saviour’ for all people.
  • A new report published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science Journal indicates that the status of people’s well-being at the time of getting the vaccine plays a significant role in determining whether it will be beneficial for them.
  • Environmental factors as well as an individual’s genetics, physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system hence slowing its response to a vaccine.

It is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in people’s lives globally.

Even though life is slowly getting back to normal in the country, fear still lingers in many people’s hearts, as no one really knows when the disease might strike.

“We are following all the recommended guidelines such as masking, hand washing with soap and social distancing. But we know that those measures are not enough. There’s still always the risk that you might catch Covid-19,” says 35-year-old Nelly, a financial analyst based in Nairobi.

Despite lacking any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity, which increase people’s chances of suffering from adverse symptoms of Covid-19, Nelly knows that she is not off the hook yet.

“We have seen younger and seemingly healthy people getting the disease and dying. Even if you don’t get it, someone close to you might get it and die. And this is still heat braking,” she says.

Hugging people

These concerns and worries have become a part of many a Kenyans’ life. These fears are always lurking behind people’s minds, even as they soldier on and strive to keep hope alive amid the pandemic.

With still no cure for the Covid-19 disease, many people are waiting with bated breaths for the vaccines to arrive in Kenya and for them to be widespread and readily accessible to all in need of them.

“I am longing for that day when Covid-19 will be just like polio or measles that exist but can easily be prevented through vaccination. We need to go back to life as it was before. I miss hugging people and closely interacting with friends without worrying that I may be exposed to something deadly,” says Nelly.

Even though research has shown that existing Covid-19 vaccines are effective against the disease, health experts caution that the vaccines may not be a ‘saviour’ for all people.

This is because the efficacy of vaccines depends not only on the inherent characteristics of the jab itself but also on the characteristics of those being vaccinated.

A new report published in the Perspectives on Psychological Science Journal indicates that the status of people’s well-being at the time of getting the vaccine plays a significant role in determining whether it will be beneficial for them.

Environmental factors as well as an individual’s genetics, physical and mental health, can weaken the body’s immune system hence slowing its response to a vaccine.

Past research has shown that depression, stress, loneliness and poor health behaviours can weaken the immune system and lower the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

The novel report suggests that the same may be true for the new Covid-19 vaccines, which are in development and the early stages of global distribution.

Physical toll

“In addition to the physical toll of Covid-19, the pandemic has an equally troubling mental health component, causing anxiety and depression, among many other related problems. Emotional stressors like these can affect a person’s immune system, impairing their ability to ward off infections,” said Annelise Madison, a researcher at The Ohio State University and lead author of the report.

Health experts are concerned that as the novel coronavirus continues to rage across the world, it is triggering a concurrent mental health crisis by making people deal with isolation, economic stressors and uncertainty about the future.

These challenges are the same factors that have been previously shown to weaken vaccine efficacy, particularly among the elderly.

“Our new study sheds light on vaccine efficacy and how health behaviours and emotional stressors can alter the ability of the body to develop an immune response.

Behavioural factors

“The trouble is that the pandemic in and of itself could be amplifying these risk factors,” stated Madison.

Even though the Covid-19 vaccines already in circulation are about 95 per cent effective, the researchers are concerned that these psychological and behavioural factors can lengthen the amount of time it takes for people to develop immunity. They can also shorten the duration of that immunity.

Nevertheless, the report indicates that it may be possible to reduce these negative effects with simple steps like exercise and sufficient sleep.

“The thing that excites me is that some of these factors are modifiable. It’s possible to do some simple things to maximise the vaccine’s initial effectiveness,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a senior author of the paper and the director of the Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research at the Ohio State University.

Based on prior research, one strategy the researchers suggest is to engage in vigorous exercise and get a good night’s sleep in the 24 hours before vaccination to ensure that the immune system is operating at peak performance.

Immune response

This may help ensure that the best and strongest immune response happens as quickly as possible.

People can effectively cope with stress by sharing their problems with loved ones, focusing on positive thoughts and indulging in activities of interest.

If the stressful thoughts and low moods persist, seeking help early enough from psychologists or psychiatrists is recommended.

“Prior research suggests that psychological and behavioural interventions can improve vaccine responsiveness.

“Even shorter-term interventions can be effective. Therefore, now is the time to identify those at risk for poor immune response and intervene on these risk factors,” said Madison.