People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing complications of COVID-19, making it all the more important that they are vaccinated against the disease as soon as possible.
It’s a new year, and COVID-19 vaccines offer hope for those wanting to protect themselves, especially people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes.
You may have questions about these new vaccines, including when you can get them and what questions you should ask your doctor about them. Experts we talked with say the vaccines are safe, effective, and important for people with diabetes.
“The most important thing is that people with diabetes get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available to them,” says Robert Gabbay, MD, PhD, chief science and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in Arlington, Virginia.
Also Read Covid-19 Vaccine Updates
1. When Will I Be Able to Get the Vaccine if I Have Diabetes?
It depends on where you live. At a federal level, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes recommendations about who should receive priority for vaccination. It is then up to each state to use those recommendations to plan for and distribute vaccines to counties and residents.
Even so, guidelines are changing. In mid-January, U.S Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said Americans 65 years and older and those who are younger but have underlying health conditions should receive priority, as AARP reports.
If your state is following the CDC’s recommendations, healthcare workers and nursing home residents are receiving first priority for the vaccine. Next, the CDC recommends vaccinating frontline workers such as firefighters, teachers, and grocery store workers, along with people over 75.
Then, the CDC recommends vaccinating people with type 2 diabetes and other underlying medical conditions due to their increased risk of severe COVID-19-associated illness.
People with type 1 diabetes do not currently have the same priority vaccination with the CDC. But groups including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and the ADA are advocating for this priority at a federal and state level.
Justin Gregory, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, who has type 1 diabetes, says that people with type 1 diabetes should have the same priority for vaccination as people with type 2 diabetes because both groups have a similarly increased risk for dangerous and deadly COVID-19 illness.
In the end, states make their own decisions about vaccination priority, so check your state and local health department’s website to find out when you are eligible. The ADA has also assembled links to individual states’ vaccination plans as part of its COVID-19 Vaccination Guide.
2. Does Having Another Health Condition With Diabetes Affect My Place in Line?
Potentially. The CDC notes notes that the risk for hospitalization increases with the more “high-risk” medical conditions a person has — it’s 2.5 times for a person with one condition and 5 times for people with three or more conditions. Nevertheless, having comorbidities, such as heart and kidney disease, does not mean you will be allowed to get vaccinated before someone with only diabetes or another single health condition. Again, it comes down to where you live.
In Massachusetts, for example, people with two or more underlying conditions are prioritized to get a COVID-19 vaccine before those with only one condition. Other states do not designate priority by the number of underlying medical conditions.
3. Are COVID-19 Vaccines Free for People With Diabetes?
The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone, regardless of diabetes status, according to the CDC. However, some providers administering the vaccine may charge a fee, which can be reimbursed by your public or private health insurance, or by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund if you do not have insurance.
4. Why Is It Important to Get the Vaccine if You Have Diabetes?
“It’s quite clear that people with diabetes do much worse than people without diabetes in terms of their outcomes with COVID,” says Dr. Gabbay. Early in the pandemic, a study from the CDC found that roughly half of people who died from COVID-19 under age 65 had diabetes.
The protective effects of vaccines are critical for people with diabetes who are at increased risk for severe and deadly infection from COVID-19, says Dr. Gregory. His December 2020 study in Diabetes Care found that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are 3 times more likely to be hospitalized or experience severe COVID-19 illness compared with people without diabetes.
Two studies from the United Kingdom showed similar risk. An October 2020 study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes were 2 to 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 in the hospital than people without diabetes. And a December 2020 study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that people with type 1 or type 2 were more likely to die or to be treated in the intensive care unit for COVID-19.
5. Are the Vaccines Safe and Effective for People With Diabetes?
Two COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in the United States — and people with diabetes were included in both the vaccine trials. Both require two doses spaced either 21 days (Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) or 28 days (Moderna vaccine) apart. With their two doses completed, these vaccines are over 90 percent effective and received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2020.
“We wanted to make sure we recruited a number of individuals who had the types of underlying medical conditions that can make COVID more severe,” says C. Buddy Creech, MD, MPH, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in Nashville and part of the phase 3 trials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
That included people with diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, says Dr. Creech. People with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes were included in the Moderna clinical trial, he adds. The FDA filing from Pfizer-BioNTech says the trial included but does not specify among types.
The vaccines were well-tolerated, highly efficacious, and elicited an immune response in people with underlying conditions, such as diabetes, says Creech.
“People with diabetes are going to be prioritized [for COVID-19 vaccination] because we know they’re at increased risk for disease. And they should feel confident that someone a whole lot like them was enrolled in the clinical trial so that we can say with a greater degree of certainty that they can effectively get this vaccine,” says Creech.
Gabbay says that the data do not suggest the COVID-19 vaccines pose particular risk for people with diabetes. He also says there is no reason to think there would be interactions with insulin or other medications that people with diabetes might take.
6. What Side Effects of the Vaccine Should People With Diabetes Pay Attention To?
In general, the most common side effects of both vaccines are pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site. Other common side effects are chills, tiredness, and headaches. Most of these side effects were mild, but some people had more severe reactions that interfered with daily activities.
Gabbay says side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines are similar to those of flu vaccines. For someone living with diabetes, keeping a sick-day kit with extra medications and supplies is beneficial in case you do not feel well.
7. What Questions Should People With Diabetes Ask Their Healthcare Teams About the COVID-19 Vaccines?
Gabbay says the first question patients should ask their providers about the COVID-19 vaccine is, “When can I get it?”
Be proactive in calling your provider to ask for the vaccine, says Gabbay. Check the websites of your state and local health departments to find out about local vaccine distribution. “Being patient, persistent, and informed is the best approach,” says Gabbay.