The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering prioritizing Americans who are obese for the coronavirus vaccine, according to a new report.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is set to meet on Tuesday to discuss which Americans should be first to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The agency has already announced that health-care personnel, workers in essential and critical industries, older adults and people with certain underlying medical conditions, including severe obesity, should be prioritized.
It is unclear if the United States will follow in the steps of Great Britain in allowing morbidly obese individuals to receive a vaccine ahead of healthy people under 65.
Obesity is a major risk factor for severe COVID-19. Barry Popkin, an obesity researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the Washington Post that evidence shows extra weight is a bigger risk factor than any individual comorbidity, as people who are overweight or obese have more body fat, which is more hospitable to the coronavirus than any other tissue, and they suffer from reduced lung capacity.
Hypertension and Type 2 diabetes are also risk factors for severe COVID-19, and both conditions are most often found in people who are obese, which makes it unclear whether the medical conditions or the obesity were the greatest risk factor.
“Being an individual with obesity independently increases the risk of influenza morbidity and mortality, most likely through impairments in innate and adaptive immune responses,” according to a paper Popkin wrote over the summer, which analyzed 75 studies on the connection between COVID-19 and body mass index.
Obese people were 113 percent more likely to be hospitalized, 74 percent more likely to be admitted to intensive care units and 48 percent more likely to die of COVID-19, according to Popkin and his colleagues.
Great Britain’s public health agency last week issued guidance recommending that morbidly obese people — those with a body mass index over 40 — should be prioritized for vaccines along with other “at-risk” populations including people with asthma, kidney disease and weakened immune systems.
In the United States, 42 percent of Americans are considered obese. In Britain, that number is roughly 28 percent.