Supplements & Vaccines: How to Maximise The Effectiveness of Vaccination

The key to ending this pandemic once and for all is going to rely on vaccination.

No vaccine is 100% effective, but there are things we can do to maximise their effects through supplementation.

This involves taking steps to minimise factors that can reduce the adaptability of the immune system — like chronic stress, malnutrition, and insufficient sleep — and increasing factors that improve our immune adaptability.

In this article, we’ll cover supplements that may help improve the effectiveness of the vaccine both before you get your shot and after.

First of All, What Does a Vaccine Actually Do?

Vaccination was invented back in 1796 when a small boy was inoculated with the cowpox virus. The man who administered the vaccine — Edward Jenner — noticed that people who had gotten cowpox (a mild illness) were resistant to the much more severe smallpox virus. This was the first vaccine ever recorded.

Since then, vaccines have allowed us to significantly control deadly viruses like polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. They’ve even allowed us to eradicate smallpox completely — which is estimated to have killed more than 300 million people.

So how does a vaccine work?

Viruses infect the body and hijack our cells to create new viruses. Our immune system is responsible for identifying the virus by a particular “tag” on the viral surface. Once the immune system finds the unique tag for the virus and discovers an effective way of killing it, they produce something called an antibody, which is designed to detect a specific type of virus. The only way we can generate these antibodies naturally is by getting sick.

Vaccines are made to generate these antibodies before someone gets sick. It works by injecting a small amount of dead virus, or viral particles, that teach the immune system how to identify it.

This way, when the virus enters the body, we already know how to defeat it. This allows the immune system to identify and contain the virus before it has a chance of taking hold and making us ill.


Supplements to Maximise Vaccine Effectiveness

No vaccine is 100% effective. For the COVID-19 vaccines, the official effectiveness rate ranges from 60% (Johnson & Johnson) to 95% (Pfizer).

The vaccine introduces the viral particle — or at least a piece of the viral particle — but it’s up to the body to produce antibodies in response. This means we need a healthy adaptive immune system for this to work.

Here are five supplements that can help by improving adaptive immunity, addressing common causes of immune deficiency, or boosting immunity directly.

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D has many different uses — ranging from calcium homeostasis to immune function. Researchers have found vitamin D receptors on the surface of the T cells and B cells — which are one of the primary immune cells in the body — largely responsible for sniffing out and destroying viral infection [1].

One study even found that patients with adequate vitamin D levels were about 50% less likely to die from the illness [2]. Of course, the number of patients in this study was too small to make any definitive claims, but knowing how important vitamin D is for maintaining immune health — this finding isn’t exactly a surprise either.

2. Zinc

Zinc is one of those minerals that wears many hats. You could consider it one of the C-suite of minerals the body needs to survive — exerting relatively small but high-impact contributions to various aspects of health. One of the uses for zinc is for facilitating our adaptive immune response. This is the part of the immune system that’s involved with identifying new causes of disease (such as a virus that shall not be named) and deciphering how to defeat it. This need to be adaptable is what gives the adaptive immune system its name.

Studies have shown that regular zinc supplementation can dramatically improve the ability of the immune system to adapt to new challenges — especially in older populations [3]

3. Selenium

Selenium isn’t talked about very often in the supplement community — probably because of how little of this mineral we actually need. It’s classified as a trace mineral because we don’t even need a full milligram of this stuff to maintain optimal health.

However, recent studies have shown that bringing selenium levels higher than typically regarded as optimal may increase the cure rate from COVID-19 [4].

More research is needed to confirm this finding, but the research thus far has been promising.

4. B Complex

There are eight vitamins classified in the B-group — each one offering a different but essential role in maintaining optimal health.

Some B vitamins are more specific for maintaining immune health and adaptability than others (such as B6 and B12). However, because of how important these vitamins are for other aspects of health that indirectly lead back to an improvement in immune status — along with the fact that B vitamins aren’t stored in the body — it’s best to go for a vitamin that covers all the B-group at once.

You can’t take too much B vitamins (for the most part) because whatever your body doesn’t use is excreted through the urine — which is why you’re pee takes on a vibrant yellow colour after you’ve taken B vitamins.

5. Elderberry Extract

Elderberry comes from the Sambucus nigra tree — which is native to Europe. The leaves, flowers, berries, and bark of the elder tree contain a series of compounds called lignans. Many of these lignins possess impressive antiviral effects.

One study even found an extract of the elder tree was able to inhibit coronavirus (in chickens) [5] as well as a related coronavirus by the name of NL63 [6].

Other studies have shown similar benefits on dozens of other viruses, ranging from influenza to HSV [7].


Final Thoughts: Can Supplements Make Vaccines Better?

The first step to finally putting an end to this pandemic is vaccination. At the time of writing, we’re on the brink of the third-wave of the infection. But this time, we have a special weapon — vaccines.

While most of the heavy lifting is going to come from the vaccines, our immune system is responsible for taking the information provided by the vaccine, and applying it in the context of immunity.

While supplements aren’t going to end the pandemic, they can help us maximise the effectiveness of the vaccine by maintaining optimal immune function and eliminating some factors that could serve to undermine its success.

References Cited

1. Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine, 59(6), 881-886.

2. Maghbooli, Z., Sahraian, M. A., Ebrahimi, M., Pazoki, M., Kafan, S., Tabriz, H. M., … & Holick, M. F. (2020). Vitamin D sufficiency, a serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D at least 30 ng/mL reduced risk for adverse clinical outcomes in patients with COVID-19 infection. PloS one, 15(9), e0239799.

3. Calder, P. C. (2020). Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 3(1), 74.

4. Zhang, J., Taylor, E. W., Bennett, K., Saad, R., & Rayman, M. P. (2020). Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 111(6), 1297-1299.

5. Chen, C., Zuckerman, D. M., Brantley, S., Sharpe, M., Childress, K., Hoiczyk, E., & Pendleton, A. R. (2014). Sambucus nigra extracts inhibit infectious bronchitis virus at an early point during replication. BMC veterinary research, 10(1), 1-12.

6. Weng, J. R., Lin, C. S., Lai, H. C., Lin, Y. P., Wang, C. Y., Tsai, Y. C., … & Lin, C. W. (2019). Antiviral activity of Sambucus FormosanaNakai ethanol extract and related phenolic acid constituents against human coronavirus NL63. Virus research, 273, 197767.

7. Serkedjieva, J., Manolova, N., Zgórniak‐Nowosielska, I., Zawilińska, B., & Grzybek, J. (1990). Antiviral activity of the infusion (SHS‐174) from flowers of Sambucus nigra L., aerial parts of Hypericum perforatum L., and roots of Saponaria officinalis L. against influenza and herpes simplex viruses. Phytotherapy Research, 4(3), 97-100.