What everyone with diabetes should know about the COVID-19 vaccines

Last updated: Jun 9, 2021
How long will you wait for a shot? What are the side effects like? Here’s the essential info you need.

As states continue rolling out the COVID-19 vaccines, many of us feel a glimmer of hope for the first time in months. For people with diabetes, a vaccine is especially good news.

That’s because COVID-19 can be more dangerous for them than for those without chronic health conditions. In fact, having diabetes makes a COVID-19 patient three times as likely to develop severe illness or require time in the hospital, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The reasons are unclear, but a few theories exist.

“When someone gets the virus, their body attempts to fight it with an inflammatory response,” says Peter Arvan, MD, PhD. He’s chief of metabolism, endocrinology, and diabetes at Michigan Medicine. But that inflammatory response can cause problems of its own. As a result, some patients with COVID-19 can have dangerous complications. Plus, diabetes often brings its own set of issues, such as high blood pressure, raising the risk of severe COVID-19.

This is why groups like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or JDRF, which advocates for people with type 1 diabetes, urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend priority vaccine access to diabetes patients. Ready to roll up your sleeve? Here are four things to know about the shots.

1. The vaccines are safe.

The Food and Drug Administration has found that the three authorized vaccines are effective and safe. This was based on Phase 3 clinical trials with more than 117,000 people. Although no trials looked specifically at people with diabetes who received a vaccine, Dr. Arvan says, “there’s no chance” those people were not studied, “given the incidence of diabetes in the U.S. and the number of people in the trials.” Also, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data at press time reveals that more than 106 million Americans have received their first dose with very few serious adverse reactions.

It’s important to weigh the risk of getting infected with the coronavirus and becoming very sick against any potential side effects of the vaccine. “The risk from getting the vaccine is so small, but the risk from getting the coronavirus if you have diabetes is quite large,” Dr. Arvan says.

2. You may experience side effects.

The CDC notes that your COVID-19 shot, like any vaccine, could trigger these possible symptoms:

  • Pain and/or swelling where you received the injection
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

If you notice anything new after getting your shot, call your healthcare provider, Dr. Arvan says. What you’re experiencing may or may not be due to the vaccine. Your provider can determine this and let you know if you should try any treatments, such as painkillers.

For some, the side effects may feel like flu, the CDC says. If that happens to you, be sure to connect with your healthcare provider. If you lose your appetite, try eating smaller, more frequent meals. Noodle soups and meal replacement shakes are good options. You’ll want to watch your blood glucose closely — as often as every two hours, Dr. Arvan says. If your blood glucose level rises to 400 or higher or dips below 70 and you’re having trouble controlling it, call your provider right away.

The good news is that even if your side effects are unpleasant, they should go away within a few days. And remember: Many people report no symptoms after the shot at all.

3. You’re eligible for the vaccine now.

Each state has had its own plan for distributing the vaccine to residents. In California, everyone 12 and older is eligible for a vaccine.

As of April 2021, nearly 20 million vaccinations have been administered in California.

4. You need the correct number of doses for the specific vaccine you get.

If you receive the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, you will need two doses, given three or four weeks apart. Be sure you get both shots as recommended. If you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’ll need only a single shot.

Also, if you have any illness, including COVID-19, you should wait to get your vaccination until you are healthy again. “You won’t mount a good immune response,” Dr. Arvan explains. The same goes if you had COVID-19 in the past and received monoclonal antibodies. “That [treatment] confounds the ability to make your own immune response when you get the vaccine,” he adds. Your provider will let you know how long you should wait before getting your shot.

California has updated its guidance on masks. Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you’ll still have to mask up and social distance. Some exceptions include when you are outdoors and around others who are also fully vaccinated.

Also, keep washing your hands regularly and practicing social distancing. It’s going to take at least several months for the nation to reach herd immunity, so keep up the good work. It will be worth it.

 

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.

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