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Study Warns a COVID-19 Vaccine Might Not Protect an Obese Public

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Obese public might not benefit from a COVID-19 vaccine.

A new study shows that patients who are obese are significantly less likely to survive a COVID-19 infection, and warn that there’s good reason to believe that a COVID-19 vaccine might not protect an obese public.


Yesterday, we learned that patients having three of the five risk factors of metabolic syndrome are over three times more likely to die from COVID-19.

Why Now It Is More Important Than Ever To Lose Weight This Year

Today, we learn that there’s even more to concern an obese public with news that a new review of COVID-19 studies points out that when a COVID-19 vaccine does eventually become available, that it might not work on obese patients.

According to a University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, University Communications article, a team of researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, recently analyzed multiple published studies focused on COVID-19 and found that people with a BMI of over 30:

• were at a greatly increased risk for hospitalization (113%)

• were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (74%)

• had a higher risk of death (48%) from the virus.

Their results were published in Obesity Reviews and supports other reviews of similar studies showing that obesity carries with it a metabolic burden which complicates how well or not the body responds to a coronavirus infection.

The news article states:

Metabolic changes caused by obesity—such as insulin resistance and inflammation—make it difficult for individuals with obesity to fight some infections, a trend that can be seen in other infectious diseases, such as influenza and hepatitis.During times of infection, uncontrolled serum glucose, which is common in individuals with hyperglycemia, can impair immune cell function.

“All of these factors can influence immune cell metabolism, which determines how bodies respond to pathogens, like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus,” said co-author Melinda Beck, professor of nutrition at Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Individuals with obesity are also more likely to experience physical ailments that make fighting this disease harder, such as sleep apnea, which increases pulmonary hypertension, or a body mass index that increases difficulties in a hospital setting with intubation.”

Equally disturbing for obese patients is the possibility that a vaccine once available may not work—or at best, have only limited value in protecting and treating obese patients, Beck states for the article.

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“However, we are not saying that the vaccine will be ineffective in populations with obesity, but rather that obesity should be considered as a modifying factor to be considered for vaccine testing,” she said. “Even a less protective vaccine will still offer some level of immunity.”

But others point out that these findings should also be recognized by the government as a need to take action where possible to mitigate the effects of COVIS-19 on the obese. The fact that obesity is even harder to control with the pandemic due to an increase in a sedentary lifestyle coupled with increased shopping for long shelf-life highly processed foods that are cheap, and high in sugar, sodium, saturated fat and carbs makes COVID-19 especially hard on the obese.

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“Given the significant threat COVID-19 represents to individuals with obesity, healthy food policies can play a supportive—and especially important role in the mitigation of COVID-19 mortality and morbidity,” says researcher Barry Popkin, the first author of the review, who is involved with the Global Food Research Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For more about what you can do to tackle obesity in your home and help protect you and your family during the pandemic, here are some select articles on weight loss that can help get you started in the fight against obesity:

5 Steps for Achieving a Sustainable Change in Your Diet

Can Coffee Help You Lose Weight? Practical Experience on What Works With Coffee.

Diabetics Who Lost Weight Owe It to These 3 Habits

Lose Weight and Your Diabetes with This New Study Discovery and Weight Loss Drink Advice

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Photo by CDC on Unsplash


Individuals with obesity and COVID‐19: A global perspective on the epidemiology and biological relationships” Popkin, BM, Du, S, Green, WD, et al. Obesity Reviews, 2020; 1– 17.

Obesity linked with higher risk for COVID-19 complications” University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill University Communications, Wednesday, August 26th, 2020.