Study examines how sleep, stress could impact response to COVID vaccine

ByKate Larsen KGO logo
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Study examines how sleep, stress impact COVID vaccine response
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A team of researchers in the Bay Area are recruiting for a study to examine how stress, age, and sleep, affect the immune response with the COVID vaccine.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's possible the amount of sleep you're getting and the stress you're under could impact your COVID vaccine, meaning the strength and durability of the vaccine may have more to do with you, your body, and your lifestyle than you expected.

UCSF professor of psychiatry, Elissa Epel, and a team of researchers are recruiting for a study to examine how stress, age, and sleep, affect the immune response with the COVID vaccine.

"What we know from the flu vaccine is that stress, particularly bereavement stress, caregiving stress, really major chronic stress, dampens the immune response," said Epel, who is working to find out if that holds true for the COVID vaccines.

Age is really not just a number. Epel said that through bloodwork they will be looking for different signs of aging, as it affects the immune response. "When people walk in, of course, their chronological age, because we know that predicts immune response. But we're also measuring the biological age of their immune system, and then these lifestyle factors that we think are so important because we can control these."

As for sleep... "we think that getting seven hours of sleep a night is critical, but especially right around the vaccination period. We also think that our daily mood is going to be important with the COVID vaccination, it's been shown to be important with the flu vaccination," explained Epel, "so when people join our study, they actually take a close look at the different stressful situations in their life."

BOOST study participants will undergo three blood draws over seven months. The first draw is done before the COVID vaccine to determine the baseline antibody level. The second and third draws will measure peak antibody response and length of protection.

"We need to learn how to optimize our own immune response. We also think these findings will have implications for boosters," said Epel. "This will help us identify subgroups who may need boosters."

Another factor that could influence immune response is obesity.

"It's been known for decades that people who are obese, have a defective level of antibody production in response to vaccines," said Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF. Obesity is not part of the BOOST study, but it is on the radar of doctors and scientists looking into COVID immunity.

Kate Larsen: "Down the line if, you have obesity or another high-risk health condition might you get a booster sooner than someone who doesn't have one of those conditions?

Dr. Robert Lustig: "We don't know the answer to that. We'll see what happens with COVID. It may be that we're all going to be getting new shots because of these new variants."

The BOOST study is looking for a diverse group of participants, particularly people over 60 who have not yet been vaccinated. Participants will get paid.