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Forty-two days Russian officials offer conflicting advice on how ‘Sputnik V’ interacts with alcohol

Source: Meduza
Sergey Karpukhin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Russia’s vaccination campaign against the coronavirus has already begun in Moscow and the Moscow region. On Thursday, December 10, the Gamelaya Research Institute’s director Alexander Gintsburg reported that 150,000 people had already received their “Sputnik V” vaccine. But recently, news reports have emerged explaining that the vaccine (which requires two injections over the course of several weeks) doesn’t pair well with alcohol. Here’s what Russian officials had to say on the subject and what science tells us. 

Please note! All Meduza content about the coronavirus pandemic is free to distribute according to Creative Commons CC BY 4.0. In other words, you can republish this stuff! (Except for any photographs featured in our stories).

The word on the street

December 4, 2020

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova 

A full-fledged immune response to the vaccine will be formed within the [full] 42 days, so it’s important not to get infected with the coronavirus during these days.

“She noted that everyone who will be vaccinated will have to observe a regime for the 42 days, limiting the use of alcohol and drugs, which suppress the immune system, [and] observing a mask regime and [social] distance in public places.”

Quotes from Interfax

December 8, 2020

Rospotrebnadzor head Anna Popova

For at least two weeks before the immunization you have to stop drinking alcohol. The formation of immunity is 42 days from the first injection, and you have to take care of yourself. 

As quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda

December 9, 2020

Gamelaya Research Institute director Alexander Gintsburg 

We strongly recommend that you refrain from alcohol for three days after each injection. [...] Of course, this in no way refers to a complete ban on alcohol during vaccination.

As quoted by Interfax

Who should I believe? 

It’s a difficult question. The instructions for the Sputnik V vaccine don’t include anything about alcohol (the instructions for Russia’s other coronavirus vaccine, “EpiVakKorona,” don’t say anything about it either, nor does the information on the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot). What’s more, Meduza was unable to find foreign or Russian recommendations on abstaining from alcohol before or after a vaccination of any kind. And the food and drug compatibility service on the popular site Drugs.com didn’t note any known interactions between common vaccines and alcohol (as it turns out, even the rabies vaccine is considered compatible with booze). 

What science does know a little bit about is how alcohol abuse impacts the effectiveness of vaccination, not normal use (which is what Russian officials appear to be urging people to abstain from). 

Countries differ when it comes to what’s considered “normal use.” In the UK, for example, the weekly norm is no more than seven or eight cans of beer, or seven shots of vodka, or a half a bottle of wine.

While drinking guidelines are subject to disagreement, the general recommendation is around 25 milliliters of alcohol (0.85 ounces) per day for a man — approximately the amount contained in a shot of vodka or a half a liter of beer. The recommended amount for women is usually either the same or half as much. For example, in the UK, where the norms are the same for everyone, the recommended amount is no more than 140 milliliters (4.73 ounces) of pure alcohol per week. And they advise against drinking it all in one day and not drinking any alcohol for the remaining six days.

Constant consumption of high doses of alcohol impairs the immune system’s functioning. Consequently, vaccinations may not work as well on people who abuse alcohol. And there are several small studies showing that in certain cases (for example, after vaccination against hepatitis B) less antibodies do in fact appear. However, this can’t be considered an established fact since other studies have shown different results. Moreover, antibody levels may not be indicative of the degree of protection.

In other words, it’s best not to abuse alcohol before or after getting a vaccine. And generally speaking avoiding alcohol abuse is, in principle, good for one's health. 

So should I quit drinking if I’m getting the shot?

If you are getting Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, how long you abstain from drinking alcohol is up to you. But it’s worth keeping in mind that Sputnik V’s instructions say that all of the clinical trial volunteers developed coronavirus antibodies within 42 days of the first injection. Russian officials have offered other recommendations for how long to abstain from drinking (like Popova’s two-week timeline mentioned above), but where they got these time frames remains unclear. 

Text by Daria Sarkisyan

Translation by Eilish Hart

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