Short-term change of depressive and anxiety symptoms in relation to COVID-19 vaccination

Apart from the physiological symptoms and functional impairments that are characteristic of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), there are also several psychological symptoms associated with this disease. In addition to its direct effects on human mental health, the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a negative psychological impact on many around the world.

Study: Short-term improvement of mental health after a COVID-19 vaccination. Image Credit: Bits and Splits / Shutterstock.com

Vaccines against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for COVID-19, not only render protection against severe infection but are also associated with improving the mental health of vaccine recipients.

Since there is limited evidence to support this claim, a new study published on the medRxiv* preprint server assesses the short-term impacts of vaccination on the mental health of Swedish adults during a long phase of the vaccine rollout, with a primary focus on depression and anxiety.

About the study

The current longitudinal study was conducted between December 2020 and October 2021 and was based on the Omtanke-2020 study, which is evaluating the mental health impact of COVID-19 in Sweden.

A total of 27,938 individuals with depressive and anxiety symptoms were included in the current study. Monthly data were collected on the anxiety and depressive symptoms of the participants during the study period.

Here, individuals who had received either one or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were considered to be vaccinated individuals. However, those who received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were excluded. Individuals without vaccination or those without data on their vaccination status were considered unvaccinated.

Assessment of depressive symptoms was done using The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), while symptoms of anxiety were measured by utilizing the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7) scale. Each symptom was defined as significant if the cut-off was 10 on each scale.

Vaccinated participants were evaluated for anxiety and depression at three time points, of which included baseline, which was one month before the first dose of vaccine, one month after receiving the first vaccination dose, and one month after receiving the second vaccination dose, when applicable.

The unvaccinated cohort was assessed at three randomly selected time points. These were referred to as Time 0 (baseline), Time 1 (two months post-baseline), and Time 2 (four months post-baseline).

Study findings

Overall, 7,925 individuals with a mean age of 52.6 years were included in the analysis, 83% of whom were women. Among the study participants, 5,079 had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, 1,977 were vaccinated with a single dose, 305 did not receive any vaccine, and 564 did not report their vaccination status.

The prevalence of anxiety and depression was lower among the vaccinated cohort at baseline as compared to unvaccinated individuals. The difference in these symptoms between the unvaccinated and vaccinated cohorts became more significant after the first and second vaccination doses.

A short-term alleviation in depressive and anxiety symptoms was observed after COVID-19 vaccination. As compared to the results obtained after receiving their first vaccine dose, an improvement in both depression and anxiety symptoms was more significant after the second vaccination dose. This finding was irrespective of the patient’s gender, age, or history of a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Notably, there was no significant reduction in the prevalence of depression nor anxiety in the unvaccinated cohort, except when the prevalence of the depressive symptoms was compared between Time 2 and Time 0.

Conclusions

A monthly evaluation of mental health and vaccination status provided a better understanding of the effect of COVID-19 vaccination on anxiety and depression, excluding any seasonal variation on the symptoms. The long study duration, use of validated instruments, and large sample size support the authenticity of this study.

Taken together, the researchers report that COVID-19 vaccination confers an immediate positive effect on depressive and anxiety symptoms among adults. This finding prompts the initiation of similar studies in other populations worldwide.

*Important notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Nidhi Saha

Written by

Nidhi Saha

I am a medical content writer and editor. My interests lie in public health awareness and medical communication. I have worked as a clinical dentist and as a consultant research writer in an Indian medical publishing house. It is my constant endeavor is to update knowledge on newer treatment modalities relating to various medical fields. I have also aided in proofreading and publication of manuscripts in accredited medical journals. I like to sketch, read and listen to music in my leisure time.

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