Obesity Impairs Immune Response, Covid-19 Vaccine Won’t Work As Well On Millions Of Adults

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Obesity impairs the immune response. A covid-19 vaccine won’t work as well. More than 40 percent of U.S. is vulnerable, researchers say. Photo: A funeral director collects a body at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, April 9, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

A vaccine for covid-19 promises salvation to the world, but for 42.4 percent of the U.S. population who are obese, that promise may not deliver.

The U.S. has reported the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world — 5,337,426 million people have tested positive and 168,565 have died.

Of the 328.2 million people living in the U.S., about 9 percent of adults are morbidly obese — about 100 pounds overweight with a body mass index of 40 or more.

As intensive care units in filled in New York, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that morbidly obese were among the groups at highest risk of becoming severely ill with Covid-19.

Then federal health officials expanded their warning to include people with a body mass index of 30 or more. That vastly expanded the ranks of those considered vulnerable to the most severe cases of infection, to 42.4 percent of U.S. adults, CNN reported.

As more children test positive for the virus, Black and Hispanic children are the most likely to require hospitalization, the CDC reported in early August.

Forty-two percent of the children in the CDC analysis had at least one underlying condition, usually obesity, according to NBC News.

“Childhood obesity affects almost one in five U.S. children,” the CDC authors wrote, “and is more prevalent in Black and Hispanic children.”

Dr. Josh Denson, a critical care physician at the Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, treats severely ill adult covid-19 patients. He recently published research on the link between the coronavirus and obesity in the African American population.

“There’s something about obesity that causes an underlying inflammatory state that we don’t understand that much about,” Denson said.

Obesity makes it more difficult to vaccinate adults against infection, CNN reported. If a coronavirus vaccine offers them weak or no immunity, it could hamper them from being able to return safely to work, care for their families and resume daily life.

It’s not just covid-19 vaccines. Obese people had a diminished response to common vaccines in 1985 when obese hospital employees who received the hepatitis B vaccine showed a significant decline in protection 11 months later that wasn’t seen in non-obese employees.

Ditto for hepatitis A vaccine, tetanus and rabies vaccines in obese people.

Vaccines are also known to be less effective in older adults, which is why people 65 and older receive a supercharged annual flu shot with far more flu virus antigens to help their immune response.

The diminished protection of the obese population — both adults and children — has been largely ignored. It was in 2017 when researchers first showed that vaccinated obese adults were twice as likely to develop flu or flu-like illness as adults of a healthy weight.

Historically, people with high body-mass indexes have often been excluded from drug trials because they often have chronic conditions that might mask the results.

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“It’s a missed opportunity for greater public health intervention,” said Catherine Andersen, an assistant professor of biology at Fairfield University who studies obesity and metabolic diseases.

Clinical trials are underway to test a coronavirus vaccine and will include people with obesity, said Dr. Larry Corey, who is overseeing phase III trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Corey is with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

It’s still safer for obese people to get vaccinated than not, said Dr. Timothy Garvey, an endocrinologist and director of diabetes research at the University of Alabama.