10/25 News Flash 5: How obesity could create problems for a COVID vaccine

Graphic by Tai Michaels.

From the start of the current COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have observed a consistent correlation between heightened COVID symptoms to the point of death and obesity in patients. This could arise from a myriad of factors, from obesity’s hallmark of insulin resistance, to higher levels of ACE 2 receptors in adipose (fatty) tissue. However, when discussing the possibility of a vaccine, the most worrying factor for scientists relates to the effects on the immune system. Obese patients tend to have a constant, low-grade inflammation leading to an overactivity of immune regulating proteins. Hence, the T cells responsible for attacking pathogens are generally more “exhausted,” impacting their ability to target infected cells. Scientists are discussing the possibility of a larger vaccine dose for obese patients and expressing hopes that vaccine-trials don’t skimp out on accurate, representative sample populations.