Bernadette Wicks
Senior court reporter
2 minute read
25 Sep 2021
4:30 am

Covid vaccine linked to improved mental health

Bernadette Wicks

A newly published study suggests getting a Covid vaccine could boost your mental health.

Vaccine hesitancy remains the biggest threat to a return to normalcy. Picture Hein Kaiser

The study, titled Covid-19 vaccines and mental distress, and released earlier this month, was conducted in the United States and looked at more than 8,000 individuals’ responses to multiple surveys conducted over a 12-month period, from March last year.

What it found was that getting the first dose of a Covid vaccine resulted in “significant” improvements in mental health.

The participants in the study were sourced from the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative longitudinal study of adult Americans invited to participate in a tracking survey to understand the impacts of the pandemic, first biweekly and later every four weeks.

While the participants started with different baselines of mental health and wellbeing, they all appeared to be following more or less the same general trajectory for a while, but the researchers observed a different trend from December, when vaccines started becoming available.

Those who received their first dose of the vaccine started enjoying an average decrease in the likelihood of being at least mildly depressed by one percentage point and an average decrease in the likelihood of being severely depressed by 0.7 percentage points.

“People who were vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021 [when vaccines started becoming available] reported decreased mental distress levels in the surveys conducted after receiving the first dose,” wrote the researchers, who are from the Centre for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California.

“The effects we identify could arise from one of or a combination of mechanisms.

“Those recently vaccinated may become less worried about getting infected, they may become more active socially or they may venture into different work opportunities.

“Future research should investigate the mechanisms through which the vaccine shot achieved such effects,” they said.

Whatever the reason, these improved levels of mental health and wellbeing are much needed at the moment.

The Covid pandemic caused a global spike in sadness, worry and anger, with the latest World Happiness Report, which was published at the beginning of the year, indicating significantly lower rates of happiness in 2020 than in years gone by.

“The pandemic has presented so much uncertainty and anxiety and depression in people because we’re facing the unknown,” said Dr Linda Blokland, acting head of department at the University of Pretoria’s student counselling unit, yesterday.

“And I think that the introduction of a vaccine brings the possibility of hope and change and some of that anxiety is lessened.”

People started feeling more positive, Blokland said, because “there is some kind of a solution”.

“There’s an empowerment aspect to it as well.

“Once people get the vaccine, they recognise if they do get ill that they won’t get as ill or necessarily go to hospital and they can start looking towards leading a normal life again,” she said.