Why a Coronavirus Vaccine Might Not Work for 42% of Adults

Doctor measuring waistline
Photo by Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com

Obesity has been a national epidemic for decades. But the coronavirus may have ratcheted up the danger.

Some experts worry that any COVID-19 vaccine that emerges may not work in people who are obese.

Raza Shaikh, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, spoke to Kaiser Health News, and had a stark message about a potential vaccine:

“Will it still work in the obese? Our prediction is no.”

History gives Shaikh good reason to harbor such fears. Experts long have known that vaccines — such as those used to protect against influenza, hepatitis B, tetanus and rabies — are not always as effective in obese adults as they are for others.

Obesity contributes to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Now, research in an emerging science known as immunometabolism suggests that obesity hampers the body’s immune response, making people more vulnerable to infection from pathogens.

According to Kaiser Health News:

“A healthy immune system turns inflammation on and off as needed, calling on white blood cells and sending out proteins to fight infection. Vaccines harness that inflammatory response. But blood tests show that obese people and people with related metabolic risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels experience a state of chronic mild inflammation; the inflammation turns on and stays on.”

If the coronavirus vaccine is ineffective in obese people, millions of Americans will be at risk. The obesity rate among American adults has soared to 42.4% as of 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2000, the rate was 30.5%.

The CDC defines “obesity” — as well as “severe obesity” — based on body mass index. BMI is measure of weight that takes a person’s height into consideration.

The CDC classifies adults as obese if their BMI is 30 or more, and severely obese if their BMI is 40 or more.

Wondering what your BMI is? The CDC’s website offers BMI calculators for adults as well as children.

How to protect yourself from the coronavirus

Slimming down might be one way to protect yourself from the coronavirus. For millions of Americans, that is much easier said than done.

If you need a little extra motivation, try a smartphone app like HealthyWage that actually pays you to lose weight. We run down more options in “Get Paid to Walk: 6 Apps That Give Dollars for Footsteps.”

You can find more motivational tips for shedding pounds in “10 Ways to Lose Weight and Pay Down Debt — at the Same Time.”

Finally, don’t forget other common-sense measures that will reduce your risk of being infected. Check out:

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