Chronic stress may influence effectiveness of vaccines

February 27, 2001

Chronic stress can have an impact on the overall effectiveness of immunizations designed to protect against infectious diseases such as flu, hepatitis and pneumonia according to a critical review of published studies. The news could be important to people who have suppressed immune function, especially the elderly.

Carnegie Mellon Psychologist Sheldon Cohen said that the reviewed studies "support an association between psychological stress and suppression of the humoral immune (antibody) response to immunization." Although flu shots and other vaccines are designed to create a strong immune response, chronic stress apparently can reduce the amount of illness-fighting antibodies that our bodies produce.

"It is interesting that the effectiveness of vaccines that were designed to elicit a big immune response is reduced among people suffering chronic psychological stress," Cohen commented. While flu and other vaccines are still effective, Cohen said that it is possible that the shots will be "less effective among the severely or chronically stressed."
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A research team from the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, wrote the review. It was published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Carnegie Mellon University

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