Living with Obesity? Get Your COVID Vaccine Now, Experts Say

Marlene Busko

July 21, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Obesity Society — the leading American organization of experts devoted to understanding and treating obesity — is urging all people with obesity to go get any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible if they have not already done so.

"We see a more virulent strain [Delta], but also vaccine hesitancy and cessation of common masking practice," Scott Butsch, MD, tells WebMD. "Unfortunately, we see low rates of vaccination in the states with the highest prevalence of obesity."

"This virus is still replicating and will continue to hit the unvaccinated populations with ease," he warns.

"Nearly all of the current deaths in the U.S. related to COVID-19 are in unvaccinated persons (something along the order of 99.5%). Therefore, regardless of whether an individual has obesity, they should get vaccinated," says Butsch, who is director of obesity medicine in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and a co-author of the position statement issued by the Obesity Society

"We want to end this pandemic. Let's make it happen by getting vaccinated. As new, more transmissible variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge, including the Delta variant, vaccination efforts are even more pressing to help limit the spread of disease," says Catherine Kotz, PhD, president of the Obesity Society and another co-author of the statement.

"In a world where lifestyle recommendations and fad diets circulate without strong supportive evidence, we wanted our patients to have a reliable source of truth on the efficacy of these vaccines," the Obesity Society statement says. 

Patients With Obesity Are Asking Their Providers About Vaccines

"We know patients with obesity already are hesitant to seek medical care or avoid it altogether because of the weight stigma that exists in the medical community," says Butsch.

The position statement has been issued now, in part because Obesity Society members were being asked about COVID-19 vaccines by patients with obesity, he says.

"What do I tell patients? I tell them that I'm concerned about their health. This is why they are here in my clinic in the first place," he says.

People with obesity who get COVID-19 are more likely to have severe disease, need to be admitted to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator, and die from the disease. And if they recover, they are more likely to have long-lasting symptoms, the experts stressed.

"Not only is obesity associated with over 200 other medical conditions and complications [including diabetes and heart disease], but it is also the strongest risk factor outside of age that carries an increased risk of death" from COVID-19, said Butsch. "I have had several of my patients die this year because of this virus, and I'm not interested in having another person die."

Analyses of the clinical trials of the three COVID-19 vaccines that are authorized for use in the United States — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — have all shown that "these vaccines work in individuals with and without obesity," says Kotz, a professor at the University of Minnesota.  

The key recommendations from the Obesity Society statement, which supports advice from the CDC, are:

  • The Obesity Society strongly recommends that people with obesity get a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • There is clear evidence that the effectiveness of the approved vaccines is similar in patients with or without obesity.

  • All three FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are equally effective.

"The risk of being unvaccinated and potentially acquiring this disease is great in persons with obesity, and ANY vaccine will reduce that risk significantly," Butsch says, adding that he often tells his patients to "Do yourself, your family, and your community a great service and get vaccinated."

SOURCES

Obesity: "COVID-19 Vaccines are Effective in People with Obesity: A Position Statement from The Obesity Society."

CDC: "Different COVID-19 Vaccines."

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