Science Finds Surprising Health Benefit Of COVID-19 Vaccine Unrelated To The Virus

Medical worker holds up generic vial of COVID-19 vaccine and syringe.
Shutterstock | 647101
Health

A new surprising health benefit of getting vaccinated has emerged amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While medical research's primary focus has understandably been about fighting the virus, a study published this week unveiled one expected beneficial effect of the coronavirus vaccine that has nothing to do with the disease itself.

The research, conducted by scientists from the University of Southern California, revealed that getting immunized can significantly improve mental health, reducing anxiety and depression, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences said in a statement.

Keep reading to find out how and why.

The Vaccine Reduces Mental Distress Regardless Of Type Or Brand

Woman gets inoculated at COVID-19 vaccination center with other people waiting in line.
Shutterstock | 559519

According to the study, which tracked 8,000 American adults over the course of one year, there was an unanticipated correlation between getting the COVID_19 vaccine and a decrease in mental distress. The type or brand of the pharmaceutical product had no bearing on the effect, with scientists aiming to examine "the short-term impact of vaccination on mental health" rather than focusing on physical health aspects.

"While the vaccine’s expected physical benefits — including protection from infection, life-threatening symptoms and hospitalization — are obvious, the resulting mental health benefits have received less consideration until now," said USC Dornsife officials.

Here's what the research uncovered.

How The Vaccine Boosts Mental Health

Emotion cards depicting improvement of mental state.
Shutterstock | 2285633

The study, published on September 8 in the journal PLOS One, compared the changes in mental health between people who were vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who weren't.

According to the findings, vaccine recipients were 15 percent less likely to suffer from severe depression and 4 percent less likely to feel at least mildly depressed.

To arrive at these results, the team, led by Francisco Perez-Arce of USC Dornsife's Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR), first established a baseline of the participants' mental health before vaccines were made available. They then tracked any changes over the course of one year, from March 2020 through March 2021.

The research showed great improvements in the mental health of people who were vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021.

The good news? It only took one dose to reap the benefits.

What Does The Research Mean?

Scientist standing in front of a microscope holds up a test tube labeled COVID-19.
Shutterstock | 806689

Previous research from USC Dornsife exploring the mental health effects of the coronavirus pandemic showed that anxiety and depression linked to COVID-19 peaked in April 2020 and declined thereafter.

However, even taking into account the reported lessening of pandemic stress, getting the vaccine has lead to a continued improvement in mental wellbeing well after that point, the authors of the new study explain in their paper.

"Getting the first dose of COVID-19 resulted in significant improvements in mental health, beyond improvements already achieved since mental distress peaked in the spring of 2020."

According to USC Dornsife, this means that, of the approximately 100 million people who got vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021, about 1 million stopped experiencing mild mental distress and 700,000 no longer dealt with severe mental distress.

The Connection Between The COVID-19 Vaccine & Mental Health

Bottle of COVID-19 vaccine next to medical test tubes.
Shutterstock | 74155

While the link between mental health and an antiviral vaccine may seem unclear, things are actually quite straightforward. As the scientists explain, setting immunized amid a global pandemic diminishes stress in a number of ways, from relieving concerns about personal health to encouraging people to resume their previous activities, rebecome social, seek employment or return to work in person.

"Those recently vaccinated may become less worried about getting infected, they may become more active socially, or they may venture into different work opportunities," the study authors write in their paper.

It's not a secret that isolation has been a major factor in people’s mental health during the pandemic. Prior studies also explored this connection in detail, leading medical groups to push hard to get children back in classrooms this fall, notes the Huffington Post.

The mental health benefits of vaccination may be even greater than what the study measured, argues Perez-Arce, who suggests people could be put even more at ease by knowing their family and friends also got the vaccine and were safe from harm.

“I think that’s likely to substantially increase the mental health value of vaccination campaigns,” he said.