COVID-19 Q&A: Obesity significantly increases risk of severe illness from COVID-19

Obesity is a common and serious disease that puts people at risk for many other serious diseases and increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

  • A study of COVID-19 cases shows that hospitalizations, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, need for ventilators, and deaths are higher with a higher body mass index (BMI).
  • A higher risk for having to be admitted to the hospital or death was really apparent in those younger than age 65. 
  • More than 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations happened in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and Nov. 18, 2020. Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2 percent) of these hospitalizations were attributed to obesity.

Why focus on obesity when there are other serious chronic health issues that also can make it more likely someone will get seriously ill with COVID-19?

Adults with enough extra weight to be considered obese are more likely to also have additional health issues that make it more likely they will wind up in the hospital or worse if they get sick with COVID-19.

Extra weight puts extra strain on our bodies, and it’s important for people to know that so they can make well-informed decisions about how to continue to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccines are safe and recommended for pregnant women

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends COVID-19 vaccination for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or who want to become pregnant in the future. Women who have questions about this should discuss their concerns with their healthcare providers. In the meantime, here are some common questions and answers.

Why is it so important for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now, or who want to become pregnant in the future, to get vaccinated?

Pregnant and recently pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared with women who are not pregnant. (Severe illness requires hospitalization, intensive care, a ventilator, or special equipment to breathe, or results in death.) Pregnant women with COVID-19 are also at increased risk of preterm birth and might be at increased risk of other adverse pregnancy outcomes, compared with pregnant women without COVID-19.

Is there a possibility the COVID-19 vaccine would keep a woman from getting pregnant?

There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with conception or pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. During vaccine trials, the rate of pregnancy among women who received the COVID-19 vaccine was the same as the rate among women who got a placebo vaccine. There is currently no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Some COVID-19 infections in vaccinated people are expected

What is a vaccination breakthrough case of COVID-19?

A COVID-19 vaccination breakthrough case is when someone who is fully vaccinated tests positive for COVID-19 more than 14 days after getting the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or more than 14 days after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Are breakthrough cases common?

Breakthrough cases are expected, but they are not common. No vaccine is 100 percent effective at preventing illness, and that includes the COVID-19 vaccines.

Let’s do some math.

In Idaho, 826,587 people were fully vaccinated as of Oct 27. Of those, 13,285 had experienced a breakthrough case. That means 1.6 percent of fully vaccinated people have experienced a breakthrough case. Or 98.4 percent of fully vaccinated people haven’t experienced a breakthrough case.

The Department of Health and Welfare tracks breakthrough cases in Idaho on its COVID-19 data dashboard at the bottom of the Case Characteristics page.

Do breakthrough cases mean the COVID-19 vaccines don’t work?

The vaccines are working. They are especially effective against hospitalization and death, and they greatly reduce your chances of getting COVID-19 in the first place. If you do have a breakthrough case, it further reduces the likelihood that you will be sick enough to have to go to the hospital or die.

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COVID-19 Q&A: An update on vaccine booster doses

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved and recommended booster doses for Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccines for certain people.

Who is at highest risk of having breakthrough infections, even if they are fully immunized?

Seniors 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems caused by certain health conditions or treatments (including organ transplants, HIV, and some cancers and chemotherapy) are more likely to have breakthrough infections. These groups are strongly recommended to get a booster dose when they are eligible.

Who is now eligible for a booster dose?

Booster doses are available for these groups at least six months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

  • People who should get a booster dose: 65 and older; 18+ living in long-term care facilities; 50+ with underlying health conditions, or disabilities.
  • People who may get a booster dose: 18+ who have underlying health conditions, disabilities; 18+ who live or work in high-risk settings. 

Adults 18 or older who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine two or more months ago also are recommended to get a booster dose.

Is it OK to get a different vaccine as a booster than you received at first?

Eligible people may choose which vaccine they get as a booster dose. Some people may prefer the vaccine type they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. CDC’s recommendations now allow for mix-and-match dosing for booster shots.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Booster doses of the vaccines

Who is eligible for a COVID-19 booster dose today?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized and recommended booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for certain people in late September.

Those eligible for a single booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are those who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months earlier and who fall into one of these categories:

  • People ages 65 years and older
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • People ages 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
  • People ages 18-49 with underlying medical conditions, based on individual benefit and risk
  • People ages 18-64 at an increased risk of exposure and transmission due to the type of work they do (including teachers and healthcare workers) or because they live or work in an institutional setting

When will those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines become eligible for a booster dose?  

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) met last week to discuss the use of booster doses of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine. The committee voted to recommend an Emergency Use Authorization for booster doses for both Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

More details will be available when the FDA takes action on the recommendation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues a recommendation, which may happen this week.

If a booster shot is needed, does that mean the vaccines aren’t working?

No. COVID-19 vaccines are working well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. However, public health experts are starting to see reduced protection, especially among certain populations, against mild and moderate disease.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine information on VAERS, cancer, and efficacy

Misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is everywhere. But the fact is that the COVID-19 vaccine is the very best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness and hospitalization. It’s safe, and it’s effective. And it will help keep you from having to go to the hospital.

Here are some common questions and answers about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Are all events reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) caused by vaccination?

No. VAERS data alone cannot determine if the reported adverse event was caused by a COVID-19 vaccination.

Everyone, including patients and their healthcare providers, can report events to VAERS, even if it is not clear whether a vaccine caused the problem. Some VAERS reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.

Serious adverse events reported into VAERS are studied by vaccine safety experts who look for unusually high numbers of health problems, or a pattern of problems, after people receive a vaccine. The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) reviews VAERS reports that indicate a serious adverse event for Idaho residents.

Recently, the number of deaths reported to VAERS after COVID-19 vaccination has been misinterpreted and misreported as deaths proven to be caused by vaccination. However, reports to VAERS of adverse events after vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.

Learn more about VAERS.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Booster doses now available for some people

Late last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized and recommended booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for certain people.

Our No. 1 goal is to have as many Idahoans as possible protected from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated, and last week’s authorization of a booster allows more at-risk Americans to receive additional protection. The new recommendation adds to the number of people who may seek a third dose of vaccine; FDA and CDC authorized and recommended a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for people with compromised immune systems in August.

Who’s eligible for the Pfizer booster?

  • Adults who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and are 65 years and older, live in a long-term care facility, or are 50-64 with certain medical conditions should receive the booster.
  • Adults younger than 50 with certain medical conditions who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six month ago may choose to receive a booster.
  • Adults less than 65 years who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months ago and are at increased risk because of the work they do (such as teachers and frontline workers) or because they live in an institutional setting may choose to receive a booster.

Where can I get my Pfizer booster?

Boosters are available at pharmacies, clinics, and healthcare providers statewide. They are not available to the public at hospitals. Use the Vaccine Finder to find locations, the vaccine brands available, and walk-in or appointment details. Neither proof of eligibility nor a prescription is required, and all doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are free of charge.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Crisis Standards of Care

Idaho activated Crisis Standards of Care for the entire state on Thursday, Sept. 16.

What are crisis standards of care?

Crisis standards of care are guidelines that help healthcare providers and healthcare systems decide how to deliver the best care possible under the extraordinary circumstances of a disaster or a public health emergency.

The goal of crisis standards of care is to save as many lives as possible. They guide decisions made by hospitals about how to allocate scarce resources, such as hospital beds, medications, or ventilators.

How would crisis standards of care affect me and my care?

When crisis standards of care are in effect, people who need medical care may experience care that is different from what they expect.

For example, patients admitted to a hospital may find there are no hospital beds or that beds have been set up in other rooms or hallways. In some extreme circumstances, ventilator or intensive care unit beds may need to be used for those who are most likely to survive, while patients who are not likely to survive may not be able to receive one.

The goal in all cases is to provide the best medical care possible with the resources that are available and to save the greatest number of lives.

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COVID-19 Q&A: The Delta variant is more contagious

What is the Delta variant and what should I know about it?

The COVID-19 virus Delta variant has mutations, or changes, from the original virus strain. The Delta variant is more contagious and spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains. Areas where many people are not vaccinated have more cases of COVID-19, and we are in a race against time to vaccinate more people before new variants form.

Higher numbers of vaccinated people lower the chance for the virus to spread and help prevent new variants. Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and work well against the Delta variant. Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community.

Should vaccinated people worry they are spreading the virus?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection, they are not perfect. There will be vaccine breakthrough infections. However, breakthrough infections represent a very small number of cases around the country, and less than 1 percent of cases in Idaho. In addition, infections among vaccinated people are much less likely to result in serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is around 3.5-fold lower than if you had not gotten vaccinated, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8-fold lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is around 25-fold lower.

There is evidence that some vaccinated people can spread the virus if they get infected with the Delta variant; that is why it is important that in areas of substantial and high transmission, vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoors to prevent spread and protect themselves and others.

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Help save a life on International Overdose Awareness Day: Naloxone is available for free for Idaho organizations

To combat the ever-growing opioid epidemic in Idaho, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has made it easy for organizations in Idaho to request free naloxone. Naloxone, the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, saves lives when it’s given quickly because it blocks the effects of opioids on the brain.

The shelf-life for naloxone is three years. Often referred to by the nasal spray brand name, Narcan, it must be administered by someone other than the individual experiencing the overdose, making it important for friends, family, and first responders to carry it.

Someone who administers naloxone to a person who appears to be experiencing an opioid overdose is legally protected by Idaho’s Good Samaritan Law. This law, along with recent statute changes, encourages Idahoans to administer naloxone and leave any extra doses with family and friends. Naloxone will not harm someone who does not have opioids in their system; it is recommended to give a dose of naloxone to anyone experiencing the signs and symptoms of an overdose. These include blue lips or fingertips, limpness, unresponsiveness, slow or irregular heartbeat, and small pupils.

Community organizations such as libraries, schools, bars, and restaurants, among others, are encouraged to have a supply of naloxone because it reduces the risk of death when someone is overdosing. Reversing an overdose with naloxone can save a life and help connect people to treatment.

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