A new realization of the role obesity plays in putting people at risk of a severe COVID-19 illness could affect decisions on the order in which Americans receive a vaccine. "Obesity was ignored for the longest time, and overweight was completely ignored," said a researcher at the University of North Carolina. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now is considering both factors, he said. On Tuesday, a CDC panel of advisers will discuss which groups the vaccine will go to first, the Washington Post reports. The emergency meeting was called so the recommendations on priorities could be made public before the Food and Drug Administration makes a decision on emergency vaccine authorization. "This is not something that is being rushed," the panel's chairman said, per CNN. "We have already discussed the groups within the first tier. We are simply going over the data once again and having a vote primarily on the first-tier group."
The CDC has already decided the first group should include front-line health care providers and support workers. Other priority groups consist of workers in essential and critical industries, older adults, and people with specific conditions—such as severe obesity. An analysis of 75 studies on the relationship between body mass index and COVID-19 found that obese people were 113% more likely to be hospitalized and 48% more likely to die of the disease. Britain, which has addressed the obesity issue, has decided that it will give vaccine priority to those with a body mass index over 40. About 42% of Americans are considered obese, while the rate in Britain is 28%. The reason for setting priorities is that "there are not going to be sufficient vaccines for everybody in the first allotment," the panel's chairman said. "It is important for the public to understand that we are dealing with select groups of individuals—not the general public." (Read more obesity stories.)