If you’re planning to be vaccinated against COVID-19, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to optimize your vaccination response. The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) has developed a Pre-Vaccination Protocol with actions you can take by yourself as well as with your doctor that may improve your immune response to vaccination. Simply waiting to get the vaccine versus taking steps to optimize your response is similar to the difference between “watchful waiting” versus “active surveillance” of early stage cancer. Some people are comfortable with the former, while others want to use evidence-based complementary approaches to improve their health and increase their chances of preventing problems.

If you consider yourself one of the latter, then the IFM protocola package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care may appeal to you.

Pandemic Pre-vaccination Protocol

According to IFM, “The functional medicine approach, focusing on lifestyle and personalized nutrition, provides support both to those considered good candidates for the vaccine by the CDC (especially those who may have to wait for the vaccine) and those who are considered poor candidates. This approach strengthens the immune system, addresses complex chronic diseases that confer increased risk, decreases the potential severity of SARS CoV-2 infection, and improves overall health.”1Institute for Functional Medicine. Pandemic Pre-Vaccination Protocol. February 11, 2021. Viewed March 23, 2021.

The aim of the protocol is to pre-emptively improve immune function, reduce inflammation and optimize lifestyle factors, thereby helping to improve the effectiveness and decrease the side effects of vaccination. Many factors, such as your health conditions, gender, age, emotional/mental state, genetics, epigeneticschanges in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. Epigenetic changes are caused by turning genes 'on' or 'off' or altering their function in other ways, but not through mutations., and methylationa chemical reaction in which a small molecule called a methyl group is added to other molecules. Methylation of proteins or nucleic acids may affect how they act in the body. When methylation is going well, the process helps repair your DNA, regulates hormones, produces energy, protects against cancer, supports detoxification, keeps your immune system healthy, supports the protective coating along your nerves and more. status can affect your response to vaccination.

Protocol webinar: main points

This approach strengthens the immune system, addresses complex chronic diseases that confer increased risk, decreases the potential severity of SARS CoV-2 infection, and improves overall health.

In February, I attended a COVID vaccination webinar by the IFM presenting the current evidence in a thoughtful, balanced manner. Some key points I took away:2COVID-19 Vaccines: Current Evidence and Clinical Considerations. Institute of Functional Medicine. February 17, 2021.

Optimize your nutrition and microbiome

  • Support healthy methylationa chemical reaction in which a small molecule called a methyl group is added to other molecules. Methylation of proteins or nucleic acids may affect how they act in the body. When methylation is going well, the process helps repair your DNA, regulates hormones, produces energy, protects against cancer, supports detoxification, keeps your immune system healthy, supports the protective coating along your nerves, strengthens the nervous system” and more. by eating plenty of leafy greens and, if needed, supplement with methylated folate (5-methylfolate).
  • Improve digestion and optimize your microbiomethe collection of microbes living on and within your body3de Vrese M, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics. Advances in Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology . 2008;111:1-66. by consuming helpful fiber such as from cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale and their relatives) and beans (kidney beans, black beans and so on). 
  • Undernutrition hampers a healthy immune response and also needs attention.

Optimize your body terrain

  • Optimize your existing conditions—your body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more—which may improve your response to the vaccine. For example, if you have diabetes, improving blood sugar control; if you have an autoimmune condition, addressing flares and lowering inflammation. 
  • Reduce inflammation, including systemic inflammation caused by some autoimmune disorders. Getting vaccinated is not a good idea if your autoimmune condition is flaring. 
  • If there’s time to prepare, address hormone balance. Interestingly, according to the presenter, testosterone replacement treatment in men may decrease vaccine responsiveness, while estrogen replacement therapy in women may increase responsiveness.4Potluri T, Fink AL et al. Age-associated changes in the impact of sex steroids on influenza vaccine responses in males and females. NPJ Vaccines. 2019 Jul 12;4:29; Hampton T. Hormones may affect influenza vaccine response. JAMA. 2014;311(5):456.
  • Get a good night’s sleep, especially for the two to three days before the vaccine, which can go a long way toward optimizing the immune system and promoting a healthy stress response.
  • Physical fitness can improve response and reduce adverse reactions to vaccination in older people.5Edwards KM, Booy R. Effects of exercise on vaccine-induced immune responses. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics. 2013 Apr;9(4):907-10; Gondim Pitanga FJ, Seara Pitanga CP, Beck CC. Can physical activity influence the effect of the COVID-19 vaccine on older adults? Revista Brasileira de Cineantropometria & Desempenho Humano. 2020;22; Bohn-Goldbaum E, Pascoe A et al. Acute exercise decreases vaccine reactions following influenza vaccination among older adults. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity—Health. 2020 Jan; 1.

Optimize your psychospiritual terrain

The protocol

The areas of focus in the Pre-Vaccination Protocol depend on whether or not the vaccine is imminent or you have more time to prepare. You might notice that many of these measures are similar to the integrative approaches to reduce your risk of getting COVID and improve your resilience in recovering if you do get COVID.

If vaccine is imminent within days

  • Avoid acute stressors if possible.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Avoid anti-inflammatory agents such as steroids and NSAIDsnon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) including Motrin or Advil two days before and after vaccination (you would also do the same if you have weeks or months to prepare for vaccination).
  • If you have an active infection, postpone your vaccination.

If vaccination is weeks to months away

See the Pandemic Pre-Vaccination Protocol for specific guidance on each of these points.

  • Enhance your immune function.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Stop smoking or using tobacco.
  • Optimize your body weight.
  • Manage chronic stress, such as with mind-body therapies.
  • Improve your physical fitness.
  • Optimize your microbiome, such as by increasing your dietary fiber.
  • Address autoimmunity.
  • Address hormone imbalances.

Note that certain foods and stress are two major contributors to inflammation. Beyond what we provide on this site to help you eat well, manage stress, improve sleep and improve your body terrain, you’ll find specific help with what you can do to reduce inflammation and enhance immunity in the Resources section below.

You’ll also find the entire Pandemic Pre-Vaccination Protocol, including recommended lifestyle practices and nutritional supplements to address co-existing illness, improve physiological function and support immune function, in the Resources section below.

The IFM pre-vaccination protocol is a guide that might fit with your wish to take an integrative approach to your health during this pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, we at BCCTBeyond Conventional Cancer Therapies (predecessor website to CancerChoices)/CancerChoices have emphasized that integrating complementary therapies and healing practices with public health measures, conventional treatments and—just recently—vaccination, may increase your chances of having a better outcome. The IFM pre-vaccination protocol is one such guide that might fit with your wish to take an integrative approach to your health during this pandemic.

Resources

General resources on improving resilience, enhancing immunity, decreasing inflammation during the pandemic

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About the Author

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years.

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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant