Q: Is it safe to have a glass of wine after receiving one of the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster shots?—Sandra, Savannah, Ga.
A: The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry, temporarily robbed many sommeliers and wine aficionados of their sense of smell, and much more. Following such devastating loss, the release of the first vaccines, in December 2020, was met with widespread celebration. However, it also left many people wondering: Is it safe to drink wine after receiving a jab?
In the case of the original formulations, experts advised against excessive alcohol consumption, which is known to weaken the immune system and can hamper the body’s response to vaccines. Moderate consumption, however, was deemed OK. Likewise, when the original booster doses were approved, in late 2021, experts advised that since the boosters were extremely similar to the original vaccines, modest alcohol consumption was still perfectly safe. Early this year, a study even found that red wine drinkers had a lower chance of COVID-19 infection.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna recently released new versions of their vaccines called bivalent boosters. These updated formulations contain mRNA encoding for spike proteins from two different strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which allows them to protect against both the original strain and the currently circulating Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5. Other than this slight tweak to their mRNA, bivalent boosters are essentially identical to the original, monovalent boosters—which are themselves nearly identical to the original vaccines. The CDC recommends a single bivalent booster for people aged 5 and up who received their last COVID-19 vaccine at least two months ago.
What do these changes mean for people who receive a bivalent booster and want to have a glass of wine afterward? According to Dr. Anuj Mehta, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Denver Health and Hospital Authority, the recommended precautions, like the vaccines, remain pretty much the same. “While no studies have directly evaluated the association [between] alcohol intake and the new COVID-19 bivalent boosters, we do know that excessive alcohol intake can reduce the efficacy of most vaccines. However, there is no reason to believe that a single glass of wine should affect how the booster works,” Dr. Mehta told Wine Spectator.
One of the extremely rare side effects of the mRNA vaccines and boosters is myocarditis, potentially serious inflammation of the heart muscle that mostly occurs in young men. According to Dr. Mehta, “it is not thought that alcohol intake increases the risk of myocarditis from the vaccines,” though he cautioned that excessive alcohol consumption can be an independent, though also rare, cause of myocarditis.
Dr. Paul Bollyky, an immunologist and infectious disease specialist at Stanford University Medical Center, told Wine Spectator that “as with the COVID-19 vaccines, no one has studied the impact of alcohol on COVID-19 booster responses. However, it's very likely that people in [the vaccine] trials consumed alcohol, and both the boosters and the vaccines have generally been found to be safe. Protecting yourself from COVID-19 is a good idea; I think we can all raise a glass to that.”
As always, talk to your doctor or vaccine provider about incorporating wine into a healthy, post-booster lifestyle.—Kenny Martin