While the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have shown a light at the end of the tunnel, the coronavirus pandemic is not over yet. And for many people who have been vaccinated, it’s hard to tell what is and isn’t safe right now.
This is especially true for people living with mental health and substance abuse issues. COVID-19 has created a spike in mental health problems and new substance use disorders, and many individuals are unsure if it’s safe to get mental health and addiction treatment after being vaccinated.
Today, we’re shedding light on this subject. Keep reading to learn what the latest data says about the safety of mental health treatment after being vaccinated for COVID-19.
Can I Catch COVID-19 After Being Vaccinated?
There is good news and bad news when it comes to your risk of infection after being vaccinated. The bad news is that it is possible to be infected with COVID-19 after receiving a full round of vaccination. However, the good news is that in this case, “possible” means “severely unlikely.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have both proven more than 94% effective at stopping individuals from catching COVID-19. For reference, the annual flu vaccine ranges between 40-60% effectiveness year to year, and that vaccine still saves countless lives. This means that these COVID vaccines provide the best protection possible, especially because they offer increased protection even when an infection occurs in someone who has been vaccinated.
In the extremely rare case that an individual with one of these vaccines becomes infected, they are still much less likely to experience severe symptoms, and they may in fact be completely asymptomatic. In this way, infection after vaccination is both almost impossible and substantially less likely to cause any health problems. Of course, the numbers are slightly different for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Where the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both two-dose vaccines that require two separate shots, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, manufactured by their company Janssen Pharmaceuticals, requires only one vaccination. This makes it a great choice for people who may not have a schedule that allows for multiple rounds of vaccination. However, this does confer slightly less protection than other forms of vaccines.
The Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine provides complete immunity from COVID-19 in 66% of cases. While that is obviously lower than other vaccines, that number is still enough to confer major health benefits. Moreover, this vaccine still prevents against severe COVID symptoms in nearly 100% of cases.
So, what does all of this mean? Regardless of the manufacturer, receiving a COVID vaccine offers fantastic protection from the virus. However, this is a complex issue, so let’s look at some other concerns that individuals have about receiving mental health and addiction treatment after being vaccinated.
Can I Spread COVID-19 After Being Vaccinated?
As we’ve established, vaccinated individuals can, in very rare circumstances, present with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms. And since many people have not had the chance to get vaccinated yet, is there a reasonable risk of vaccinated people transmitting COVID-19 to unvaccinated individuals?
The current body of evidence shows that vaccinated individuals are much less likely to spread the virus, even in the exceptionally rare instances where they can be infected. It’s also important to remember that mental health and addiction treatment centers have been following COVID-safe practices for the past year. And until community spread goes away, these practices will stay even as people continue to be vaccinated.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Ohio has seen more than 1,000,000 cases and 18,000 deaths. And while numbers have been much lower here in Brown County (3,846 cases and 50 deaths), we do not take that for granted. At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, we follow all CDC guidelines to best protect our patients and our community. Some of the protective steps that we take include:
- Providing infection prevention and control training to all staff members
- Following a thorough disinfection and hygiene protocol
- Requiring the use of personal protection equipment (PPE), including face masks for patients and staff
- Screening patients and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms
- Communicating with the Broward County Health Department to monitor trends in local coronavirus cases
All of these extra steps confer additional protection on top of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. For that reason, the risk of a vaccinated individual receiving or transmitting the coronavirus at a behavioral health center is exceptionally low. If you’re still worried, you should make sure to call an Ohio behavioral health center and ask about their COVID safety precautions before you go for treatment.
Clearly, going to a mental health and addiction treatment center in Ohio appears quite safe. But as the pandemic has gone on, new coronavirus strains have developed, some of which may be highly transmissible. Does this make getting help for addiction and mental health less safe?
Do COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Against New Strains?
It’s important to remember that developing new strains is not a unique or unexpected feature of COVID-19. All viruses develop strains over time, especially ones that are widely spread, such as the flu. These are slightly different versions of the virus that have the same general makeup, but differ in one or two key ways.
The good news is that since this is a normal process in the life cycle of a virus, scientists planned for some amount of mutation when creating the COVID-19 vaccines. At present, the list of known COVID-19 strains includes:
- The UK Strain: There is some evidence that the UK strain spreads more easily than others, but researchers are not certain if this is due to a mutation in the virus or environmental factors like the season (viruses typically spread easier in the winter). And if this strain is more transmissible, it’s not clear by how much.
- The Brazilian Strain: Like the UK strain, this strain of the virus has shown a new development in the spike protein, which is the part of the virus that helps it bind to human cells. This new mutation may make it easier for the virus to infect people.
- The South African Strain: While there is some level of concern that this strain may be slightly more resistant to vaccines, the current research suggests that the difference may be very small or not there at all.
- The New York Strains: This group of variants shares some similarities with the South African strain. For this reason, there is some concern that they may prove more resistant to the current vaccines, but there has been no peer-reviewed research that confirms this.
- The California Strains: These COVID-19 strains are similar to other strains, with limited evidence that they may be more resistant to current vaccines. At this time, more research is needed to say whether or not these strains are more dangerous.
Some of that may sound concerning, but let’s look at the facts. Right now, we know that vaccines are nearly 100% effective at preventing severe symptoms and hospitalizations. Moreover, there is no body of research that confirms that any of these strains are more deadly or better at evading antibodies than current strains. As unsatisfying as it is, we simply have to wait for more research to say for sure.
However, none of this should be cause for concern. In the event that these strains do prove more resistant to antibodies, vaccines can be adjusted to provide additional protection. Moreover, vaccines still prevent the worst of COVID symptoms in nearly all cases, particularly among those in good or decent physical health.
But did you know that mental health issues and continued addiction can both affect your immune system and your response to COVID-19? Let’s take a look at how unrated mental illness and substance use disorders can increase your risk of catching the coronavirus.
How Mental Illness and Addiction Weaken the Immune System
New research into the mind-body connection has revealed some startling truths about how mental illness can affect physical health. For example, the chronic stress associated with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders has been shown to weaken the immune system and increase risk of a host of health problems, including autoimmune disorders and cancer.
That isn’t the only way that mental illness can increase your risk of catching COVID-19, either.
For many people dealing with untreated mental health conditions, turning to drugs and alcohol seems like a way to deal with the symptoms. However, over time, this substance abuse creates its own problems, like chemical dependency and addiction. These are called co-occurring disorders, since each disorder reinforces the other and worsens its symptoms.
And in these cases of co-occurring disorders (also known as dual diagnosis), individuals may be greatly increasing their risk of developing health complications associated with COVID-19.
Alcohol abuse, for example, both weakens the immune system and makes it harder to recover from infections. Morphine, a commonly abused opioid, has also been shown to weaken the immune system, as have several other drugs, like cocaine.
And when you combine the increased health risks of untreated mental illness and addiction, it is very likely that ignoring mental health conditions or co-occurring disorders may increase a vaccinated person’s risk of catching COVID than attending a safe, sanitized treatment center.
You Can Get Help and Do It Safely
At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, we take every precaution to keep our staff and our patients safe. We are proud to serve the Cincinnati area by helping people with mental health issues and co-occurring disorders find peace and stability in their lives.
Whether you’ll benefit from our mental health program or our treatment program for co-occurring disorders, you can rest assured that we will work with you to create the best treatment outcomes possible. That’s why we provide evidence-based treatment options that are administered through highly personalized treatment plans. No two mental health or co-occurring addiction issues look the same, and our treatment process takes the unique nature of behavioral health issues very seriously.
If you have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, we’re glad to say that you have nothing to fear from mental health and addiction treatment in Ohio. The vaccines are strong, and by continuing to follow CDC guidelines, we will be happy to do our part in keeping you healthy and safe.
Would you like to learn more about how we help people struggling with mental illness and co-occurring addiction? Call our friendly admissions specialists at 937-483-4933 or ask your questions online. Wherever you are in the recovery process, we will meet you there and help you take the next step.