AARP Eye Center
If you're wondering whether it's safe to toast your second vaccine dose — that major step toward COVID-19 immunity — with a big glass of wine or beer, the quick answer is: It depends.
Doctors have long known that excessive alcohol consumption — more than four drinks on a given day for men or more than three for women — can do a number on the immune system. Not only do heavy drinkers recover from infection and wound-healing more slowly than their teetotaling counterparts, they're also more susceptible to pneumonia and at higher risk for both bacterial and viral infections and a range of medical conditions, including acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), sepsis, alcoholic liver disease and certain cancers.
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But what about moderate drinkers? That's a surprisingly different story, both in terms of any interference with the COVID vaccine and issues that go beyond it.
Research suggests there's a sweet spot when it comes to the health effects of drinking alcohol. Moderate drinking — meaning no more than two drinks a day for men and one per day for women — might actually benefit the immune system by reducing inflammation. (As a reminder: A drink is one 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits like bourbon, vodka or gin.)
Venture beyond the moderate zone, however, and those benefits go by the wayside. “Everything you do has a risk-benefit ratio. With alcohol, the benefits outweigh the risks when you're talking about a very low amount of alcohol per day,” explains Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Exceed the one- or two-drink-per-day recommendation, and the balance shifts. “The complications of alcohol — in terms of liver disease, trauma — increase the risk and outweigh those benefits."