Why is the US Government prioritising obesity patients for Covid-19 vaccinations?

Patty Nece hasn’t been inside a retail store for an entire year.

Even though most Virginia businesses reopened by July and grocery stores remained opened throughout the pandemic, the 62-year-old hasn’t dared to step inside one since last March, as her obesity puts her at risk for severe COVID-19.

Because of her disease, she’s eligible to get the vaccine and has an appointment for her first dose on Wednesday. While she’s looking forward to getting vaccinated, she’s also disappointed some Americans have criticized people with obesity who are prioritized to get the vaccine.

“It displays a misunderstanding … weight isn’t always within your control,” said Nece, who is also the chairwoman of the Obesity Action Coalition. “Like many diseases, there’s personal responsibility involved but that’s not the end. The mantra of eat less and move more – which I’ve heard my entire life – isn’t the answer.”

In one instance, a news anchor for WTTG-TV in Washington, D.C., sent a tweet criticizing health officials for prioritizing obesity patients for the vaccine.

“I’m annoyed obese people of all ages get priority vaccine access before all essential workers,” Blake McCoy said in the since-deleted tweet. “Vaccinate all essential workers. Then obese.”

Obesity and COVID-19

Roughly 40% of adult Americans have obesity, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2018. Studies have shown people with obesity are more likely to have worse outcomes from COVID-19 than others with a lower body mass index (BMI).Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found people with a BMI above 30 had a 113% higher risk for hospitalization, a 74% higher risk for ICU admission and a 48% higher risk of death, according to a study published in August 2020 in Obesity Reviews.

At first, health experts believed people with obesity were more at risk for severe COVID-19 because the disease also is associated with numerous underlying risk factors including hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney and liver disease.

But after controlling for those factors, researchers found people with obesity were still at higher risk for COVID-19, said Dr. Rekha Kumar, medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. This may be partly due to the excess fat tissue producing more inflammation, she said.

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