It has been clear for some time that loneliness and social isolation can lead to increased risks for adverse health events. For example, loneliness is associated with increased rates of depression in young adults and in aged individuals who live in nursing homes. Additionally, loneliness has been associated with negative impacts on blood pressure, increases in obesity, and may lead to heart disease. In one study published earlier this year in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, researchers found that loneliness and social isolation were associated with a poorer antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccine.
The study looked at loneliness and social isolation in two ways and used survey-based data from over 600 participants. First, they assessed individual loneliness by asking participants questions such as, “in the last 4 weeks, how often did you feel lonely?” The response to the survey questions were recorded. The authors also assessed social cohesion as a measure of social isolation.
According to the authors, social cohesion refers to the degree of social connectedness and solidarity among different community groups. In other words, feeling that you along with your community “are all in this together.” In their article, the authors reference different social trends that occurred during the early COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that highlight social cohesion, such as when Italians sang on their balconies to help lift each other’s spirits. In the study, the authors asked participants to rank questions on a Likert scale (i.e. 1-strongly agree to 5-strongly disagree) for questions such as, “People in this neighborhood are willing to help their neighbors,” and, “I think of myself as similar to the people in this neighborhood.”
Finally, the researchers obtained blood samples from the individuals who were surveyed at several time points during the pandemic, including after their first COVID-19 vaccine. When the data were analyzed, the researchers found that individuals who had a higher sense of social cohesion had a higher antibody response to the first vaccine. Furthermore, individuals who reported more feelings of loneliness also showed a poor antibody response.
This study, along with many others, emphasize the importance of social cohesion during public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as the authors state, “efforts to improve social cohesion therefore should become a political priority because they also support improved antibody response and contribute to the overall vaccination and pandemic effort.”