Two benefits, one vaccine: COVID-19 vaccination helps boost mental health

DURHAM, N.H. — The COVID-19 vaccines are helping the world get back on track and return to normalcy. Now, a new study finds they’re also helping people feel more like themselves again, too. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire found that the COVID-19 vaccine can help improve overall mental well-being considerably.

The team reports getting vaccinated measurably improved mental health among people participating in the Understanding Coronavirus in America study. That project is a large longitudinal investigation into the impact of the pandemic on Americans.

More specifically, the study finds receiving a COVID-19 vaccination had a connection to fewer reports of distress, perceived risk of infection, hospitalization, and death among participants. While this could be predictable to some, this work scientifically backs up the idea that the vaccine alleviates COVID-related daily anxieties.

After vaccination, researchers explain that taking a trip to the grocery store or local gym may not feel as daunting as it may have in 2020. Over time, this feeling of further control over one’s own life and daily choices results in mental health and overall life quality improvements.

“Our study documents important psychological benefits of vaccination beyond reducing the risk of severe illness and death associated with COVID-19,” says lead investigator Jonathan Koltai, PhD, Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, in a media release.

Even one vaccine dose makes a difference

Study authors analyzed data on 8,090 adults interviewed regularly between March 2020 and June 2021. That analysis showed a general trend following COVID-19 vaccination: a reduction in COVID-related risk perceptions and psychological distress. More specifically, even adults who received just a single vaccine dose between December 2020 and June 2021 enjoyed a seven percent relative drop in mental distress.

Study authors say much of this improvement had a direct link to participants feeling better protected against COVID-19 infection. Vaccination contributed to a 7.77 percent reduction in perceived risk of infection, a 6.91 percent drop in perceived hospitalization risk, and a 4.68 percent decline in perceived mortality risk. Moreover, when researchers adjusted for risk perceptions, the vaccination−distress association dropped by 25 percent.

These positive mental health benefits continued to strengthen for up to eight weeks after a patient’s injection. Researchers explain that prior to any vaccinations, nearly all participants reported feeling similarly down or in poor mental health. Post-vaccination, however, those who received their shots both felt safer and physically had more virus protection.

Certain people benefit more mentally from vaccination

It’s also important to report that the mental health benefits of vaccination differed between certain races and demographics. American Indians and Alaska Natives reported reaping the largest mental health rewards. Study authors note both of those groups suffered greatly during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Asians and Pacific Islanders showed the highest rates of vaccination, while African Americans displayed the lowest rates.

The pandemic isn’t over yet, and the Omicron variant continues to spread across the United States and the globe. With this in mind, study authors stress the need for more campaigns encouraging vaccinations and greater efforts to achieve vaccine equity. Additionally, researchers believe vaccination messaging should take advantage of these findings.

“To ensure these benefits are widely shared, efforts to increase vaccination and booster rates in early 2022 need to prioritize equitable distribution and access to vaccines,” Dr. Koltai concludes.

The study is published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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