Durham, NH—When pharmacists administer a COVID-19 vaccine, they are doing more than improving recipients’ immunity and lowering the risk for a severe infection. They also are providing a significant boost to mental health, according to a new study.

The Understanding Coronavirus in America study found that being vaccinated against COVID-19 significantly improved the psychological well-being of participants. Vaccination was linked to declines in distress and perceived risks of infection, hospitalization, and death, according to an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“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, PhD, Department of Sociology, University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Researchers point out that mental health problems increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining, “The knowledge that one is less at risk after being vaccinated may alleviate distress, but this hypothesis remains unexplored. This study tests whether psychological distress declined in those vaccinated against COVID-19 in the U.S. and whether changes in anticipatory fears mediated any association.”

To do that, the study team regularly interviewed a nationally representative cohort of 8,090 U.S. adults from March 2020 to June 2021 in 28 waves. Results indicate that vaccination was associated with a 0.04-SD decline in distress (95% CI = -0.07, -0.02). At the same time, getting a shot was associated with a 7.77 percentage–point reduction in perceived risk of infection (95% CI = -8.62, -6.92), a 6.91-point reduction in perceived risk of hospitalization (95% CI = -7.72, -6.10), and a 4.68-point reduction in perceived risk of death (95% CI = -5.32, -4.04).

The authors point out that Including risk perceptions decreased the vaccination–distress association by 25%. “Event study models suggest that vaccinated and never vaccinated respondents followed similar Patient Health Questionnaire 4 trends before vaccination, diverging significantly after vaccination,” they note.

The positive mental health effects after vaccination persisted and became stronger up to at least 8 weeks after receiving the shots, according to the authors, who note that recipients not only were safer, but they felt safer.

Researchers add that vaccination had different effect by race/ethnicity, with the greatest declines observed among American Indians and Alaska Natives (Beta = -0.20, P <.05, 95% CI = -0.36, -0.03).

“COVID-19 vaccination was associated with declines in distress and perceived risks of infection, hospitalization, and death,” the authors conclude. “Vaccination campaigns could promote these additional benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.”

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