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Why researchers say getting vaccinated, prioritizing mental health offer best COVID protection

Researchers say there is a link between your mental health and how your immune system responds to infections like COVID.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Prioritizing your emotional well-being is just as important as getting vaccinated.

Researchers say your mental health affects your immunity to COVID-19. It's something that's been studied for decades with other viruses, like the flu.

"Stress really dominates our internal landscape,” said Dr. William Malarkey, the director of clinical research at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

He explained our brain is in constant communication with the rest of our body – including our immune system.

He said research shows feelings of constant worry or fear can cause our immune system to not work effectively and efficiently – making a person more vulnerable to illness like a virus infection.

And COVID is no exception.

He used the following example: A 65-year-old with low stress gets vaccinated for the flu and they have a 65 to 75 percent chance of getting good protection.

But if that person is under a lot of stress from caring for a sick parent – "it's only about a 10% likelihood that they'll respond positively to that immunization."

We asked: "Is it accurate to say that that person got vaccinated for COVID-19, they may be more likely to get a breakthrough or post-vaccination infection?”

Dr. Malarkey’s answer? “Correct.”

"That stressed caregiver is high probability will not even get immunized,” he explained. "And that stress is sometimes so severe that even after their loved one has died years later, we found suppressed immunity, inability to respond to an influenza vaccination.

He's urging everyone to get vaccinated for COVID and take control of your mental health by starting with these three things: focus on eating healthy, get enough rest and exercise.

“The definition for resilience is to bounce back quickly stay positive in the face of adversity,” he said. “But also to learn from adversity.”

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