Not only do vaccines help reduce the spread of COVID, they even lead to improved mental health, says a study that compared the prevalence of mental distress in the US through the pandemic.
The study, published in the PLoS journal Wednesday, was conducted by a team of scientists from the University of Southern California. Its aim was to assess if receiving the first dose of the vaccine led to short-term changes in mental distress — especially since the economic uncertainties and health risks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a significant increase in mental distress in the population.
“We document how mental health distress has diverged between those who have been vaccinated and those who have not (or at least not yet). By comparing the trajectories of these two groups, we learn about the short-term impact of vaccination on mental health,” the researchers wrote in the paper.
Previous research has shown that the prevalence of mental distress in the US peaked in mid-April to early May 2020 and declined thereafter.
Covid vaccines are expected to reduce health risks, improve economic and social outcomes, which would then have potential benefits to mental health.
The study surveyed 8,003 vaccinated and non-vaccinated adults from across the US at regular intervals between 10 March 2020 and 31 March d2021.
The participants took the four-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-4), which measured the correspondence between vaccine status and mental distress.
People vaccinated between December 2020 and March 2021 reported decreased mental distress levels in the surveys conducted after receiving the first dose, the study shows.
The results, the researchers say, should be interpreted as the “short-term direct effects” of getting a first vaccine dose.
“The overall contribution of vaccine uptake on improving mental health outcomes are potentially much larger, as it affects not only those vaccinated but also the unvaccinated,” the team wrote in their study.
According to the team, even unvaccinated person benefits from the reduced prevalence rates in the population — it makes them less worried about their loved ones catching the infection. They also benefit from increased social and economic opportunities, especially if the vaccine rollout results in more social and economic activity due to lower disease risk, the study says.
The researchers acknowledged that there are some limitations to this research. It is possible, they said, that individuals who were more likely to recover from mental distress, were also more likely to decide to get vaccinated.
Such possibilities will need to be investigated in future studies, the authors suggested.
“Future research should investigate the mechanisms through which the vaccine shot achieved such effects,” researchers said.