A new study has found that people who are obese should be prioritized for Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines.
This study was conducted by researchers from the World Obesity Federation (WOF), an international organization dedicated to supporting efforts to reduce, prevent and treat obesity. The researchers found that around 2.2 million of the over 2.5 million COVID-19 deaths reported around the world by the end of February occurred in countries where more than half of the population is classified as overweight.
The researchers wanted countries with high rates of obesity to recognize that obesity is “a disease in its own right” and a risk factor for other detrimental health conditions, including “significantly worsening the outcomes of a COVID-19 infection.”
The WOF batted for the obese people to be classified as a priority group for COVID-19 vaccinations, along with the elderly and healthcare and other essential workers. The federation also asked public health officials to find better treatment for obesity and monitor its connection to the coronavirus. (Related: Huge new study finds that obesity is the single biggest “chronic” factor in hospitalizations for COVID-19 in NYC, which explains why America is getting hit HARD.)
“Reducing one major risk factor, overweight, would have resulted in far less stress on health services and reduced the need to protect those services from being overwhelmed,” wrote the federation in the foreword of its report.
“We were shocked to see such a high correlation between a country’s proportion of overweight adults and its deaths from COVID-19,” Dr. Tim Lobstein, the report’s author, told the Guardian. “We now know that an overweight population is the next pandemic waiting to happen.”
Multiple studies have indicated that obesity could put a person more at risk of experiencing a severe case of COVID-19, including one study published in the British Medical Journal. This study analyzed over 5,000 people hospitalized in New York City during the early months of the outbreak in the United States. The researchers of this study found a strong link between obesity and hospital admission.
“It is notable that one of the chronic conditions strongly associated with critical illness was obesity,” wrote the researchers. “Obesity is well recognized to be a pro-inflammatory condition.”
Obese people divided over whether to accept their priority group status
Places across the United States are already putting obesity as a condition that warrants putting a person in a COVID-19 vaccine priority group.
When Philadelphia opened up its online portal for the city’s residents to pre-register for the vaccine in early January, the site put up a list of chronic conditions that could mark a person as a priority for getting a vaccine. These conditions included cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, sickle cell disease and obesity.
Amanda Silberling, writing for Business Insider, noted on her pre-registration application that her body mass index (BMI) was over 30. “As a result, I was placed in the coveted ‘priority group 1C,’” she wrote.
While Silberling’s BMI may be above normal, she has always considered herself to be relatively healthy.
“It’s better than a coin flip,” noted Dr. Michelle Ogunwole, health disparities researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Obesity does increase your risk of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and a host of other issues. But there are some people who have obesity, but don’t have any other medical problems.”
“When I discovered my priority group, I couldn’t help but feel unsettled that I’d get the vaccine sooner than 64-year-olds deemed ‘normal’ by BMI, or immunocompromised people whose conditions aren’t considered a priority,” wrote Silberling.
The writer found this situation to be unfair. Her friend, Julia Metraux, a 23-year-old health journalist with a rare form of systemic vasculitis, was unable to get herself into a priority group for the coronavirus vaccine despite the fact that if she were infected with the virus, she could suffer serious complications.
“[The CDC is] not going to look at my type of autoimmune disorder, because it’s rare,” said Metraux. “It’s frustrating.”
“Since 42.4 percent of American adults are obese, does prioritizing such a large portion of the population defeat the purpose of a priority group in the first place?” asked Silberling.
While Silberling is grappling with the moral dilemma of being prioritized over people with worse health conditions that are out of their control, other people with obesity believe being given priority status is a good thing.
“I’ve been getting discriminated against my whole life because of my weight,” said Meredith, an obese woman from California who spoke with U.S. News & World Report under the condition of anonymity.
“You know what? Screw it,” she said. “The medical community owes me. The objective is to get herd immunity. Why are we worried about the order?”
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