Why Are Some States Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccine Patients With Obesity?

‘Weight isn’t necessarily under your power.’ For the last year, Patty Nece hasn’t set foot in a department store. About the fact that by July, the majority of Virginia companies had reopened. Food stores stayed open during the pandemic. The 62-year-old hasn’t entered one since March due to her obesity, which places her at risk for extreme COVID-19.

She’s ready for the vaccine because of her illness, and her first injection is scheduled for Wednesday. Although she is excited to be vaccinated, she is saddened that some Americans have blamed obese people for being given priority for vaccination.

Why Are Some States Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccine Patients With Obesity?


It demonstrates a misconception, “Weight loss isn’t necessarily within your control,” said Nece, who also serves as the Obesity Action Coalition’s chairwoman. “Like many illnesses, personal liability is involved, but that is not the end of the story. The motto of consuming fewer calories while the physical activity, which I’ve learned all my life, isn’t the answer.”

In one case, a Washington, D.C.-based television anchor sent a tweet condemning health authorities for prioritizing obese patients for vaccination.

Why Are Some States Prioritizing COVID-19 Vaccine Patients With Obesity?

In the deleted tweet, Blake McCoy wrote, “I’m irritated obese citizens of all ages are given first preference for vaccines above all-important jobs.” “Immunize all vital employees. After that, you’re obese.”

After deleting the inflammatory tweet and apologizing on Twitter, the local station informed the New York Daily News that McCoy was “suspended awaiting further investigation.” Yet, health advocates believe it’s just another sign of how weight prejudice pervades the health system and American culture.

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COVID-19 and Obesity

According to the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2018, about 40% of adult Americans are obese. Obese patients are more likely than those with a lower BMI to have adverse effects from COVID-19, according to studies (BMI).

According to a report released in August 2020 in Obesity Reviews, individuals with a BMI over 30 have a 113 percent higher risk of hospitalization, a 74 percent higher risk of ICU entry, and a 48 percent higher risk of death than those with a BMI below 30.

Since COVID-19 is linked to a slew of underlying risk factors, including asthma, cardiac failure, type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney and liver disease, health authorities initially assumed that individuals who were obese were more likely to develop serious COVID-19.

Dr. Rekha Kumar, medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that after correcting for specific causes, researchers discovered that people with obesity were still at a higher risk for COVID-19. She believes that this is partly because of the extra fat tissue causing additional inflammation.

“People’s bodies are staging such a severe inflammatory response (to COVID-19), and that response is already present in obesity,” Kumar said. “So, any time you apply another stimulus, they become sicker.”

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, some patients may also have obesity hypoventilation syndrome, a respiratory condition that produces too much carbon dioxide and too little oxygen in the blood.

Dr. Ethan Lazarus, a president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association, said, “It’s not from bearing the weight.” “Their lungs are constrained, so they can’t stretch to take in the oxygen they require.” They are now at a higher than ever risk of COVID-19 complications as a result of this.

Obese patients also have a weakened immune system, which leaves them more susceptible to infectious infections while also making it more difficult to fend them off, according to doctors.

According to Dr. Nancie MacIver, an associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine, obesity can alter the metabolic state and role of immune cells. Excessive inflammation may be a sign that the immune system isn’t working correctly.

The COVID vaccination and obesity

Experts are concerned about obesity patients’ reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, mainly because previous trials have shown they could not react as well to influenza vaccines.

According to a 2017 report released in the International Journal of Obesity, about 10% of patients with obesity were sick with the flu among vaccinated adults, compared to around 5% of participants with a lower BMI.

Obesity patients, though, should not be discouraged, according to health authorities, and should get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

“People should be able to distinguish between ineffective and diminished efficacy,” Kumar said. “Even if a vaccine is less effective, it is still preferable to anyone being seriously ill in an ICU.”

As an obese patient, Nece is concerned that due to decades of weight stigma in the health-care system, people like her will avoid treatment during the pandemic.

Weight bias and Obesity Awareness Week

In the medical environment, weight stigma expresses itself in various ways, from wearing ill-fitting gowns to weighing patients in public to misdiagnose a life-threatening condition due to a doctor’s failure to see past a person’s excess weight.

According to James Zervios, vice president of strategy and communications at the Obesity Action Coalition, many patients internalize their bias and delay therapy or preventative intervention entirely after years of weight lectures and poor encounters at the doctor’s office.

To escape the stress and humiliation of a doctor’s appointment, Nece postponed her mammogram for 15 years.

“After a while, you’re so tired of coping with it,” says the narrator “she expressed herself. “You’ve had enough of being shamed and blamed, and it’s not helping.”

However, during Obesity Care Week, which runs through Saturday, activists like Zervios and Nece aim to raise awareness that obesity is more than a lifestyle problem that can be affected by biology, hormones, and even drugs.

They also encourage people who are obese to seek support from health care professionals regardless of their weight, particularly during the pandemic.

“We want people to note that they are deserving of the treatment they need and to avoid dealing with bias,” Zervios added. “Everyone needs to be respected and treated with dignity.”

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