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Bad news: Scientists think a coronavirus vaccine might not work for one huge group of people

Published Aug 9th, 2020 9:02AM EDT
Coronavirus vaccine
Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

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  • The earliest estimates are that a successful, viable coronavirus vaccine could make it to the finish line and be ready for introduction into the general population by the end of this year.
  • Change wouldn’t happen overnight in terms of an impact on the coronavirus pandemic, however. Getting everyone vaccinated will represent a major logistical challenge.
  • Even so, there are concerns that a coronavirus vaccine won’t even work or will provide little protection to at least one group of people — the obese.

For the nearly 19 million people around the world who’ve contracted COVID-19 thus far during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the millions more taking so many precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from the COVID-19 virus, a coronavirus vaccine can’t come fast enough. Indeed, the promise of ending this thing, and of getting to whatever’s on the other side of the pandemic, can be summed in one word for those people and for all of us, really: A vaccine.

President Trump insisted, no doubt aggressively so, on Geraldo Rivera’s radio program on Thursday that a coronavirus vaccine is possible before the November 3 presidential election date. That may or may not be the case (it most likely won’t be, even though some respected experts are predicting a vaccine could materialize by the end of this year). However, there’s one aspect of a vaccine that’s starting to be talked about now which represents bad news for a broad slice of the American population, and that includes the people who it’s believed a successful coronavirus vaccine won’t be able to help: The obese.

More than 107 million Americans, according to one estimate, can be categorized as “obese,” and researchers say that we already know vaccines that offer protection against everything from influenza to tetanus and rabies are less effective when given to obese adults than to the general public. A coronavirus vaccine is likely to follow the same pattern.

“Will we have a (COVID-19) vaccine next year tailored to the obese? No way,” Raz Shaikh, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told CNN. “Will it still work in the obese? Our prediction is no.”

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that people with a body mass index greater than 40, including people considered more than 100 pounds overweight, are at the greatest risk of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus. That designation encompasses almost 10% of Americans. But as we learned more about the virus, who it affects, and how, federal officials expanded that category of people to include anyone with a body mass index of at least 30, with broadens the amount of US adults most at risk from the coronavirus to more than 42% of Americans.

The CDC’s list of underlying medical conditions that can exacerbate a COVID-19 infection includes:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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