While getting a COVID-19 vaccine protects against infection, new research confirms that it can also help ease pandemic-triggered stress.
"Our study documents important psychological benefits of vaccination beyond reducing the risk of severe illness and death associated with COVID-19," said lead investigator Jonathan Koltai, from the University of New Hampshire's department of sociology.
There was a sharp jump in mental distress and anxiety among Americans during the pandemic due to factors such as job and income loss, social isolation, food insecurity, caregiving obligations, racial discrimination and substance abuse.
It was believed that getting vaccinated might have some mental health benefits. To find out if that's true, researchers examined data from more than 8,000 U.S. adults who were interviewed regularly between March 2020 and June 2021 as part of the Understanding Coronavirus in America study.
The analysis showed that adults who received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine between December 2020 and June 2021 reported a 7% reduction in mental distress from average levels before vaccination.
That reduction was partially explained by a decline in perceptions of pandemic-associated risks after people were vaccinated, according to the authors of the study, which was published online recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The investigators found that vaccination was associated with a 7.8 percentage point decline in perceived risk of infection, a 6.9 percentage point decline in perceived risk of hospitalization, and a 4.7 percentage point decline in perceived risk of death.
These impacts lasted and became stronger up to at least eight weeks after vaccination, the findings showed.
The benefits of vaccination on mental health varied by race/ethnicity, with the largest reductions in mental distress seen among American Indians and Alaska Natives, who have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19.
Efforts to increase vaccination rates to combat the highly infectious Omicron variant need to be coupled with effective communication about both the physical and mental benefits of vaccination, Koltai noted.
"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," Koltai emphasized in a journal news release.
There's more on COVID-19 and mental health at the World Health Organization.
SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, news release, Feb. 15, 2022