If you’re obese, a coronavirus vaccine is probably less likely to immunize you, so now’s a good time to start losing weight

Illustration by Lynne Shallcross, Kaiser Health News (Getty Images)

Looking forward to getting a vaccine for the novel coronavirus when it becomes available? If you’re carrying around way too many pounds, it would be a good idea to lose some.

“Vaccines engineered to protect the public from influenza, hepatitis B, tetanus and rabies can be less effective in obese adults than in the general population, leaving them more vulnerable to infection and illness,” Sarah Varney writes for Kaiser Health News. “There is little reason to believe, obesity researchers say, that covid-19 vaccines will be any different.”

She quotes Raz Shaikh, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: “Will we have a covid vaccine next year tailored to the obese? No way. Will it still work in the obese? Our prediction is no.”

Obese people are already among those more vulnerable to developing severe covid-19 from the virus, and that probably means they are also more vulnerable to dying from it.

“In March, still early in the global pandemic, a little-noticed study from China found that heavier Chinese patients afflicted with covid-19 were more likely to die than leaner ones,” Varney writes. Then U.S. health officials said people with a body mass index of 30 or more were at increased risk.” That description applies to 42.4% of American adults and about half of Kentucky adults, since the state’s adult population is the fifth most obese in the nation.

“People with high BMIs often have been excluded from drug trials because they frequently have related chronic conditions that might mask the results,” but the current trials for a coronavirus vaccine “include people with obesity, said Dr. Larry Corey, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who is overseeing the phase 3 trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health,” Varney reports. “Although trial coordinators are not specifically focused on obesity as a potential complication, Corey said, participants’ BMI will be documented and results evaluated.”
And even if the vaccine isn’t as effective in obese people, it’s still safer for them to get vaccinated than not, experts told Varney.

“The influenza vaccine still works in patients with obesity, but just not as well,” said Dr. Timothy Garvey, an endocrinologist and director of diabetes research at the University of Alabama. “We still want them to get vaccinated.”

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