COVID vaccines don't just benefit physical health, they also improve mental health

COVID vaccines don’t just benefit physical health, they also improve mental health

The considerable physical health benefits of COVID vaccines, in particular the greatly reduced risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from the virus, are well known.

But what about the mental health benefits of vaccination? Does vaccination help alleviate psychological distress associated with COVID? And if so, how important are the positive effects?

We hypothesized that vaccination against COVID would benefit people’s mental well-being because it might reduce anxiety surrounding COVID (at least, with respect to a person’s own health).

In a new study, using data from thousands of UK adults, we have shown that vaccination is linked to significant relief from psychological distress associated with COVID.

To understand the benefits of vaccination on mental health, we compared the mental well-being of people who had received the vaccine (one or two doses) with those who had not. We used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, a large annual household survey that collects a wide range of information from adults living in the UK. We looked specifically at data collected between January and March 2021.

The measure of mental well-being used in this study was the General Health Questionnaire. It consists of a 12-item scale designed to assess stress, anxiety and happiness.

A problem with simply comparing the mental well-being of the two groups (those who had been vaccinated and those who had not) is that there can be significant differences between them. This may mean that we could confuse differences between groups’ mental well-being as being due to vaccination when they could be the result of other factors.

Our approach to this potential problem was to carefully match the two groups, so that those who were vaccinated were very similar to those who weren’t, for example, in characteristics like age.

We also had a variable in the survey indicating whether people were willing to get vaccinated, which meant we could match the two groups based on their willingness to get vaccinated. This could be important because people who refuse a vaccine, for example, due to lower trust in government, may have lower well-being in the first place.

Our results suggest that for the vaccinated group, vaccination resulted in a significant reduction in their psychological distress.

To understand the magnitude of this estimated effect, we compared it to the estimated effect of other major life events on mental well-being (taken from other studies). The well-being benefit in the vaccinated group was about one-half to two-thirds of the mental well-being benefits associated with moving from unemployment to full employment.

Differences between age groups

We should note that while just under half of the respondents in our sample had been vaccinated, due to the gradual rollout of COVID vaccines, it was also the half who were most likely to be at risk of COVID infection. .

That said, we had a significant number of people from all age groups who were vaccinated.

A young woman has been vaccinated.
Our results were not consistent across all age groups. dekazigzag/Shutterstock

We set out to see if there was a difference in the benefits of vaccination for mental well-being between different groups. Specifically, we compared the estimated benefits of vaccination for the mental well-being of people below the middle (median) age (56 years) in our sample with those above that age. We also compared people classified as ‘clinically vulnerable’ (people at higher risk of getting an infection) with those who were not.

We found that the mental well-being benefits associated with vaccination were heavily concentrated in older, clinically vulnerable groups. Our proposed explanation is that in the absence of vaccination, anxiety about contracting COVID would be particularly strong for this group.

On the other hand, looking at younger groups who were not clinically vulnerable, we found little evidence to suggest that vaccination resulted in substantial improvement in their mental well-being.

It is perhaps worth noting here that despite a successful COVID vaccination campaign across the UK, younger groups are most likely to express vaccine hesitancy.

Our results may help explain this. For young people, not getting vaccinated may be primarily due to a lack of perceived benefits to their own well-being (weighed against perceived costs), as opposed to vaccine hesitancy across the board. case.The conversation


Kausik Chaudhurilecturer in economics, University of Leeds

Peter Howleyprofessor of economics and behavioral sciences, University of Leeds

The conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

Disclosure Statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The University of Leeds provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.

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