The high-risk people who need the COVID-19 vaccine most
In the United States, about 60% of adults have at least one pre-existing health concern. If you're one of them, you’ve likely heard that you may be at a higher risk for COVID-19. This is why it’s important for people with chronic conditions to get their vaccination as soon as possible. And it’s why this group started near the front of the line.
“For most people, the risks of getting the vaccine are very small compared to the risks of COVID,” says Cathleen Morrow, MD. “And for patients with conditions like hypertension, diabetes, or lung disease, the risk-benefit ratio is even more clear. It just doesn’t make any sense not to get the shot,” says Dr. Morrow, the chair of community and family medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.
While any pre-existing condition can increase your risk, some conditions come with higher risks than others. Keep reading to get the specifics on why COVID-19 is particularly dangerous if you have COPD, diabetes, or hypertension — and learn how to stay safe until you can get your shot.
When you have COPD
Why COVID-19 can be so serious: According to a statement from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) “is a well-established risk for severe COVID-19.” COPD is an umbrella term for lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which block airflow and make it hard to breathe.
“If you have significant COPD, you already know what it’s like to be short of breath. It’s called ‘air hunger.’ And it’s one of the most uncomfortable and scary experiences a person can have,” says Dr. Morrow. Plus, research shows that the lungs of people with COPD are more susceptible to a severe COVID-19 illness. That's why COVID-19 patients with COPD are about two and a half times as likely to need intensive care. They’re also more likely to need help breathing from a ventilator.
One important note: This increased risk doesn’t appear to apply to people with asthma. There’s no conclusive evidence that they’ll have a worse COVID-19 illness than someone without asthma. According to the AAAAI: “Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that patients with moderate-severe asthma could be at greater risk for more severe disease, there are no published data to support this determination at this time.”
How to stay safe beyond the shot: Keep taking your medications to keep your condition under control. A huge bonus: There’s evidence that steroid inhalers could offer some protection against COVID-19.
When you have diabetes
Why COVID-19 can be so serious: “When people have chronically high sugars, their white blood cells — which attack invading germs — don’t work as well as they do in people without diabetes,” says Dr. Morrow. This helps explain why diabetes patients who get COVID-19 tend to have severe cases. In fact, about 40% of Americans who have died from COVID-19 also had diabetes.
How to stay safe beyond the shot: “The better your diabetes is controlled, the better your white blood cells work,” says Dr. Morrow. Check your blood sugar often and keep in close touch with your healthcare provider. They can increase your insulin as needed, she says. You should also eat balanced meals, drink water instead of sweetened beverages, get enough sleep, and find ways to reduce stress. And if you’re not physically active, talk to your provider about a fitness plan.
When you have high blood pressure
Why COVID-19 can be so serious: It’s well-known that high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, makes your heart work harder and damages your arteries. This happens slowly, over years, and the damage throughout your body can lead to long-term inflammation.
All that inflammation raises your chances of having severe COVID-19 — possibly because your immune system overreacts to the virus. This kicks off a dangerous response that can lead to tissue damage. This may be why COVID-19 patients with high blood pressure are more likely to suffer from pneumonia and organ failure.
How to stay safe beyond the shot: Stay in touch with your provider to make sure your blood pressure is in check. “Don’t delay getting the medical care you need because you’re scared of going to the office,” says Dr. Morrow. Be sure to ask about telehealth appointments too.
Lifestyle changes can also help lower your blood pressure and reduce chronic inflammation. These include maintaining a healthy weight, eating heart-healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and reducing stress. Deep breathing, yoga, and making time for hobbies can also help.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time and posting. Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It’s also important to continue practicing social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet away from people outside your household) and washing your hands frequently. You should also be appropriately masked any time you’ll be in public. According to the CDC’s latest guidance, this means layering a disposable mask underneath a snug-fitting cloth mask or placing a mask fitter over your cloth mask to ensure a tight fit. Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, we encourage readers to follow the news and recommendations for their own communities by using the resources from the CDC, WHO, their local public health department, and our COVID member site.
What we know about long-term COVID-19 right now
Here’s what scientists have learned so far about the most common lingering effects and how to manage them.
Removing barriers to getting a COVID-19 vaccine
We are working hard with the state to make the vaccines available to everyone.
Why older adults shouldn’t wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine
Getting vaccinated will help protect you from getting the virus.
Addressing COVID-19 concerns in Pacific Islander communities
We answer common questions those in Pacific Islander communities may have.
Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Indigenous peoples of America communities
We answer common questions those in Indigenous peoples of America communities may have.
Your simple guide to COVID-19 testing
Discover the differences between the two types of diagnostic COVID-19 tests and learn which one may be best for you.
Concerned? Get the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines
We have answers to common questions about the vaccines.
Your 5-step plan to stay safe with diabetes
Now’s the time to double down on good blood sugar control. But that’s not your only safety measure.
Overcoming needle fears
Does the thought of getting a shot make you want to skip it altogether? Learn how to cope with your anxiety like a pro so you can get the care you need.
6 groups of people who are at higher risk for COVID-19
If you’re an older adult or have underlying conditions, it’s hard not to worry about COVID-19. But knowing the details can help you stay healthy.
Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Asian communities
We answer common questions those in Asian communities may have.
Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Black communities
We answer common questions those in Black communities may have.
Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Hispanic/Latino communities
We answer common questions those in Hispanic/Latino communities may have.
What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines for teens
Some teens 16 and up are eligible to get the vaccine now.
What to know if you have an ongoing health condition
The vaccines are highly recommended for people with chronic illnesses.
6 great reasons to get the COVID-19 shot
Here’s a look at some of the good things that will happen once you’re vaccinated.
How do the 3 new COVID-19 vaccines work?
These shots are the first of their kind, and they’re true medical breakthroughs. Here’s a closer look at the science behind how they were developed.
Everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccines available now
Learn how the three approved shots stack up and find out why all of them can help keep you safe.
Get to know your treatment options for COVID-19
Learn about the latest treatments available for adults and children with mild, moderate, or severe COVID-19.
What does herd immunity from COVID-19 look like?
Learn how getting vaccinated can help us reach herd immunity safely — and get back to living a normal life faster.
A parent’s guide to the COVID-19 vaccine
What you need to know to help protect your child from COVID-19.
5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Asian communities
Here are five updates for those in Asian communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.
5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Black communities
Here are five updates for those in Black communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.
5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Hispanic/Latino communities
Here are five updates for those in Hispanic/Latino communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.
5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Indigenous peoples of America
Here are five updates for those in Indigenous peoples of America about the COVID-19 vaccine.
5 important COVID-19 vaccine updates for Pacific Islander communities
Here are five updates for those in Pacific Islander communities about the COVID-19 vaccine.
What everyone with diabetes should know about the COVID-19 vaccines
How long will you wait for a shot? What are the side effects like? Here’s the essential info you need.
Heart disease and COVID-19: Your 5-step plan to help you stay healthy
Now that the coronavirus has your attention, here’s how to help protect yourself.
Protect your community: Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett
Getting vaccinated can help stop the COVID-19 spread in Black communities, which have infection rates three times that of White communities.
Protect your community: Meet Dr. Erica Pan
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine will help stop the spread in at-risk Asian communities.
Protect your community: Meet Virginia Hedrick
Vaccines are important to protecting the health of California’s at-risk Indigenous peoples of America communities.
Protect your community: Meet Dolores Huerta
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can help stop the spread of the virus in California’s Hispanic/Latino communities.
Protect your community: Meet Dr. Kawika Liu
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a crucial step for helping to protect Pacific Islander communities.
Worried about COVID-19 vaccine mandates
We answer your top questions about whether COVID-19 vaccines are (or will be) required, plus how to prove your status.