Smartwatches and Fitness Bands Can Measure COVID Vaccine Reactions

Wearable sensors like smartwatches and fitness bands can now provide information about how people’s bodies respond to the COVID vaccine.

A study published in npj Digital Medicine analyzed sensor data on sleep, resting heart rate, and activity levels before and after COVID vaccination.

The researchers pulled their data from a more extensive COVID study known as DETECT. This app-based research program began in 2020 and allows participants to share their wearable sensors’ physiological and behavioral data. Participants can also enter symptoms, test results, and vaccination status. The study looked at this data from 5,600 participants and compared their baseline resting heart rate, sleep, and activity levels to their levels after vaccination.

The findings:

  • Participants’ average resting heart rate increased the day after vaccination significantly, peaking two days post-vaccination and returning to baseline around 4 days after receiving the first dose.
  • After the second dose, it took about six days for participants’ resting heart rates to return to normal.
  • The resting heart rate increased after the second dose of Moderna versus the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
  • Prior COVID-19 infection was also linked with a significantly higher increase in resting heart rate than in those who had no prior immunity, suggesting a more robust immune response to the vaccine.
  • Women experienced more significant changes than men in resting heart rate five days post-vaccination.
  • People under 40 experienced more significant changes in resting heart rate than those over 40 but only after the second dose.
  • Activity and sleep were minimally affected by the first dose but were significantly affected with an increase in sleep and a decrease in activity immediately following the second dose.

The takeaway:

Thanks to the sensors many of us already own, the physiological response and reaction to vaccination can be tracked and measured for the first time. This kind of information can help inform the development of future vaccines, find out exactly how people are affected by them, and help researchers understand the individual variability of vaccine reactions though more research is needed.

“While the link between physiological response and immune response still requires further investigation, digital tracking could provide a novel way to identify individuals who may not be responding optimally to the vaccine,” says Steven Steinhubl, MD, senior author of the study.

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