Vaccination against COVID-19 helps protect millions of people from the coronavirus, while reducing their risk of serious illness from the disease. But new research says it may also help alleviate the scourge of anxiety and depression.
“While vaccines are primarily aimed at reducing COVID-19 transmission and mortality risks, they may have important secondary benefits,” according to a new paper from the University of Southern California and the RAND Corporation.
The scientists used data from U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and cross-referenced those figures to state-level COVID-19 vaccination eligibility data to estimate secondary benefits of vaccination on mental-health outcomes.
“We estimate that COVID-19 vaccination reduces anxiety and depression symptoms by nearly 30%,” they concluded. Fear of testing positive among frontline workers and social isolation has taken an emotional toll on millions of people.
The researchers noted larger reductions in anxiety or depression symptoms among individuals with lower education levels, who rent their homes, who are not able to work remotely, and who have children in their household.
“Nearly all the benefits are private benefits, and we find little evidence of spillover effects, that is, increases in community vaccination rates are not associated with improved anxiety or depression symptoms among the unvaccinated,” they added.
Nearly one-third of U.S. adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, a survey of 50,849 U.S. adults by the U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Health Statistics in September and October concluded.
“‘Some fear that the deterioration in mental health could linger long after the pandemic has subsided.’”
The economic benefit of reductions in anxiety and depression could amount to billions of dollars by alleviating health-care costs and restoring lost work hours, public-health experts say.
The World Health Organization says depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion every year in lost productivity, leading companies to improve their mental-health support services for workers.
People suffering from depression miss an average of 4.8 workdays and suffer 11.5 days of reduced productivity over a three-month period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Researchers worldwide are investigating the causes and impacts of this stress, and some fear that the deterioration in mental health could linger long after the pandemic has subsided,” according to a commentary in the journal Nature.
“Scientists hope that they can use the mountains of data being collected in studies about mental health to link the impact of particular control measures to changes in people’s well-being, and to inform the management of future pandemics,” it said.
Younger people, particularly young women and people with young children, are most vulnerable to increased psychological distress due to the pandemic, “perhaps because their need for social interactions are stronger,” the article added.