Drinking alcohol won’t impact COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, says NITAG

Alcohol and smoking should not be a barrier to getting the vaccine, according to health officials

As the first mass COVID-19 vaccination is rolled out across the country, questions have been raised as to whether individuals drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes would like to confront any impact when one gets the jab.

Some experts around the world have raised different opinions on the matter. Some say one should avoid drinking alcohol before receiving the vaccine, others say alcohol consumption is not an issue and will not impact the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), there is no specific data surrounding COVID-19 vaccines, alcohol consumption, and smoking. “Not true, there is no scientific evidence yet.”

Dr. Dupthob Sonam, who is the Flu Clinic in-charge and co-member of NITAG, said that he has not seen this in the interim guidelines published by the World Health Organization. 

“Nothing has been mentioned on this when the health workers were trained on our nation Covid-19 vaccination manual,” he said.

However, the health ministry emphasizes that no matter how much alcohol they drink, people should get vaccinated.

“Alcohol and smoking should not be a barrier to getting the vaccine,” a health official said.

“Theoretically this could affect reaction to a vaccine in an adverse manner or lead to lesser likelihood of immune response. But there is no strong evidence to back this up,” he added.

MoH officials expressed that the concern that people could be discouraged from taking the vaccine if it is not clear about questions surrounding alcohol, smoking and COVID-19 vaccine they may see online are “a hypothetical issue more than anything”.

Meanwhile, the officials said that it has not issued a warning about avoiding alcohol intake before or after immunization against COVID-19. None of the current vaccines have warnings related to alcohol intake, as there is no evidence of interference from alcohol intake on vaccination efficacy or safety that would require such a warning.

For those who are casual alcohol consumers, whether or not you drink just before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, health officials say, there are zero issues.

“Once it becomes available to everybody, whether or not a person has a glass of wine or anything, that’s not going to profoundly impact their immune response to the vaccination,” health officials added.

According to the health ministry, in the millions of doses of the vaccine administered thus far in the world, allergic reactions have been both extremely rare, and with no association identified with alcohol intake.

MoH received 550,000 doses of the vaccine with the estimated eligible population of 533,000 in the country, health officials said, adding that there will not be any shortage of the vaccines and doses in the country.

Kinley Yonten from Thimphu