Diabetes and the COVID-19 Vaccine: What you need to know

Now that three COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for use, questions are circulating about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, and if and when those with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, should get vaccinated.

Clay Semenkovich, MD, chief of the division of endocrinology, metabolism and lipid research at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, and Moyosore Onifade, MD, an internist at Christian Hospital, address some of these questions, including whether people with diabetes should get the vaccine.

Is the vaccine safe for those with diabetes?

Both doctors agree that the vaccine is safe for people with diabetes. Dr. Semenkovich explains, “More than 3,000 people with diabetes were part of the clinical trial for the Pfizer vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine included 2,875 people with diabetes in its clinical trial — and the trials found the vaccine to be safe and effective overall.”

What guidance do you give to diabetic patients regarding getting the vaccine?

“I encourage everyone, including my patients with diabetes, to get the vaccine,” Dr. Semenkovich says. “I can say with confidence, this vaccine protects those who receive it, including those with diabetes, from further complications.”

Dr. Onifade agrees. “I am encouraging all of my patients to get the vaccine as soon as they are eligible, according to CDC guidelines,” Dr. Onifade adds. “The solution to COVID-19 is to practice masking, hand sanitizing, physical distancing and prevention. Thankfully, science is prevailing and vaccines are becoming increasingly available — and it’s very important for patients with diabetes to get vaccinated.”

Why is it important to get the vaccine if you have diabetes?

Both doctors say the vaccine protects those who get it, their loved ones and their community, by helping the body’s immune system fight off a COVID-19 infection. This means that if someone who is vaccinated is exposed to COVID-19, their immune system protects them and significantly reduces their chances of getting sick or experiencing severe complications from the virus.

“Diabetic patients, regardless of age, should get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity they are eligible to receive it,” says Dr. Onifade, “because diabetes is one of the diseases that increases the risk of severe COVID-19 infection or even death. Diabetes affects multiple organs and systems in the body and is a risk factor for heart disease and chronic kidney disease.

“Diabetes is also an immune-compromising disease that makes patients vulnerable to infections because high blood sugar levels weaken the immune response and can cause complications,” Dr. Onifade adds.

What complications can arise for people with diabetes if they don’t get the vaccine and become infected with COVID-19?

“People with complications of diabetes are at much higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Dr. Semenkovich says. “Complications can include pneumonia, respiratory failure, low level oxygen in the blood, hospitalization or being placed on a ventilator. There is a lot of evidence that the vaccine can prevent some of these complications if someone has diabetes and were to test positive for COVID-19.”

Any final thoughts for people with diabetes who might be hesitant to get the vaccine?

“It is very important for those with diabetes to get vaccinated to avoid other possible health complications,” Dr. Semenkovich says. “The side effects of the vaccine are very mild and may include fever, headache and body aches, which is a small price to pay to avoid getting really sick.”

“The COVID-19 vaccine is another layer of protection for ourselves and for our community,” Dr. Onifade says. “We should all do our part, not only to protect ourselves but also to protect our communities. The faster we all get vaccinated, the faster our community heals physically, mentally and economically from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Meanwhile,” Dr. Onifade adds, “while waiting for your vaccine appointment, continue masking, hand sanitizing and physical distancing.”

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