COVID Vaccines: What People with Diabetes Need to Know

Amid the ongoing pandemic, the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) Foundation continues to focus on raising funds for finding a cure for diabetes. We’re also tuned in to the needs of the diabetes community that we support. COVID-19 vaccinations are rolling out for many in the US, but where does that leave you or your loved ones with diabetes?

Many of you have been asking: Are the vaccines safe? We turned to DRI Director Dr. Camillo Ricordi, a leading expert in the field of diabetes research who has also been instrumental in treating diabetes patients that have COVID-19.

“The overall benefits for people with type 1 and type 2 far outweigh the risk of not receiving the vaccine,” stated Dr. Ricordi. “Diabetes is associated with increased severity of COVID-19, indicating an urgent and continued need to mitigate risk in this community. It is important that patients with diabetes receive the vaccine, and both types of diabetes should be prioritized.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the following prioritization guidelines:

Phase 1a is in process, having begun in December 2020 immediately following the approval of the COVID-19 vaccines in the US. It includes frontline healthcare providers and residents of nursing homes, where COVID-19 cases and deaths have been dramatically highest.

Phase 1b is happening in some states already, includes people over the age of 74, and expands to more frontline workers, including first responders, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, teachers, and child care workers.

Phase 1c, depending on the state, is likely to begin in February or March 2021. This phase includes people over the age of 64, anyone else aged 16 or above with medical conditions that increase the risk for severe COVID-19, and all other essential workers, like those in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, construction, finance, information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, public safety, and public health workers.

What does this mean for people with diabetes?
As written in the online health resource STATguidelines from the CDC released in December rank a person with type 2 diabetes as someone who “is at increased risk” of more severe illness from COVID-19. That means people with T2D will follow health care workers and people living in long-term care settings, getting their vaccines in Phase 1c of the rollout.

According to our sharing partners at Beyond Type 1, this means that for those with type 1 or any type of diabetes other than type 2, you are possibly (depending on your state) not included in the initial rollout and may need to wait to receive your vaccine with the general population, which is likely to be in April 2021 or later.

What are the COVID-19 vaccine options?
As of January 2021, two COVID-19 vaccines are available in the United States:

  • U.S. pharma giant Pfizer BioNTech released the first vaccine, initially available in mid-December 2020, for those 16 and older. After the first shot, a second “booster” shot is required 21 days later.
  • Biotech company Moderna released its vaccine in late December 2020 for adults 18 and older. This also requires two shots, with a 28-day break before the second dose.

Dozens more new COVID-19 vaccines are being tested around the world, and research is ongoing for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for optimal dosing in children as well as those with autoimmune conditions.

Are the vaccines safe?
All the COVID-19 vaccines being used have gone through rigorous studies to ensure they are as safe as possible. Systems that allow CDC to watch for safety issues are in place across the entire country. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Emergency Use Authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines that have been shown to meet rigorous safety criteria and be effective as determined by data from the manufacturers and findings from large clinical trials. Clinical trials for all vaccines must first show they meet rigorous criteria for safety and effectiveness before any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, can be authorized or approved for use.

People with diabetes in both the Pfizer and Moderna trials have not reported major side effects. Overall, some clinical trial participants have reported mild side effects, much like how some people experience injection-site soreness, mild lethargy, a low-grade fever after other vaccines. These mild reactions some people experience after vaccines are typical and not cause for alarm. They are a result of the immune system going into action as purposely triggered by the vaccine, creating the ability to fight against the actual virus were a person to be exposed to it5.

Why should you get the vaccine?
The vaccine has the ability to protect you, your loved ones, and your community. It will help your body’s immune system fight off a COVID-19 infection. This means that if you are exposed to COVID, your body can protect you and significantly reduce your chances of getting sick or experiencing severe complications from the virus.

The two vaccines that are currently authorized in the US are nearly 95% effective at preventing symptoms of COVID in adults who have been exposed. In other words, if you are vaccinated and then come into contact with someone who has COVID, you probably won’t get sick.

Vaccines are one of the most effective tools to protect your health and prevent disease. Other steps, like wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, and staying at least six feet away from other people you don’t live with, also help stop the spread.

Why is glucose control so critical at this time?
People with diabetes aren’t more likely to become infected with COVID-19, but infections of any kind — viral, bacterial, or fungal — hit people with diabetes harder. Their bodies do not process glucose as well during illness, their immune response is weaker, and their circulation is impaired. Inflammation rises and the immune system does not perform well.

What should you do if you contract the virus?
The DRI’s education team put together guidelines for diabetes management during the COVID-19 crisis and other emergencies. Learn more about what you should know here. For more information, make sure to visit the CDC website and contact your physician.



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