Roundup: New Link Between Obesity and COVID-19; Hypertension-Related Pregnancy Disorders; and Latest on COVID Vaccines for Kids Under 5

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June 3, 2022


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U.S.-Funded Study: Obesity, High BMI Raise Risk of Getting COVID-19 Infection — Not Just Severe Illness from the Virus

Since the early months of the pandemic, studies have linked obesity to a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. A new, U.S.-funded study finds that obesity and a high BMI (body mass index) are also associated with an increased risk of getting infected with COVID-19. 

Researchers “found a strong, linear relationship between BMI ― a measure of body fat based on height and weight ― and the risk of (COVID-19) infection.” Every 10-point increase in BMI percentile raised the risk of infection by 9 percent. Participants who were overweight or obese had a 41 percent greater risk of infection than those who were not. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. 

The findings, published this week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, comes from the Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS) study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The study also found that children ages 12 years or younger are just as likely to become infected with the virus as teenagers and adults. However, 75 percent of infections in children are asymptomatic. A separate and surprising finding of the study, researchers noted, is that people with food allergies are less likely to become infected with COVID-19.

Researchers followed more than 4,000 people in nearly 1,400 households that included at least one person age 21 years or younger. The research took place in 12 U.S. cities between May 2020 and February 2021, before the widespread rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The HEROS study findings underscore the importance of vaccinating children and implementing other public health measures to prevent them from becoming infected with (COVID-19), thus protecting both children and vulnerable members of their household from the virus,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy, and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH, in a statement. “Furthermore, the observed association between food allergy and the risk of infection with (COVID-19), as well as between body-mass index and this risk, merit further investigation.”


Hypertension-Related Pregnancy Disorders linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease and Cardiac Events Later in Life

Hypertensive (relating to high blood pressure) disorders affect up to 10 percent of pregnancies in the U.S., potentially causing complications for the expectant mother and baby.  Previous studies have linked hypertensive pregnancy complications to increased cardiovascular risk for the mother.

The latest research on the topic, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has determined that women who experienced complications related to developing high blood pressure during pregnancy had a 63 percent increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

The new study is considered the most comprehensive because researchers considered and “controlled for pre-pregnancy shared risk factors for these types of complications and cardiovascular disease,” the NIH states in a news release.

“Researchers also found that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, or being overweight or obese after pregnancy accounted for most of the increased risk between pregnancy complications and future cardiovascular events, the NIH states.

Researchers used health data shared by more than 60,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II. The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, could help healthcare providers in developing customized heart disease prevention and monitoring strategies for women who experience hypertensive disorders during pregnancy.

After about 30 years, when the average age of women in the study was 61 years, about 1,074 (1.8 percent) of study participants had suffered a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke. The type of a cardiovascular event experienced by these women – and when they had it – often overlapped with specific pregnancy complications, the study concluded.

“For example, compared to women with normal blood pressure in pregnancy, women with gestational hypertension, which was associated with a 41% increased risk for cardiovascular disease, were more likely to have a stroke about 30 years after their first pregnancy,” the NIH states.


FDA Accepts Pfizer’s Application to Authorize COVID-19 Vaccines for Children Under 5

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it has accepted Pfizer-BioNTech’s application for “emergency use authorization” (EUA) of a three-dose COVID-19 vaccine in children aged 6 months to under 5-years-old.

“We recognize parents are anxious to have their young children vaccinated against COVID-19 and while the FDA cannot predict how long its evaluation of the data and information will take, we will review any EUA request we receive as quickly as possible using a science-based approach,” the FDA said.

Pfizer announced last month that its COVID-19 vaccine for children in this age group was 80 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19.

The FDA’s independent advisory panel, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, is planning public hearings this month to consider both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for children under 5.

“Pfizer and BioNTech completed a rolling application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization (EUA) of the 3-µg [microgram] dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for children 6 months through 4 years of age (also referred to as 6 months to under 5 years of age) on June 1, 2022,” the company said in a statement.

Anticipating the FDA’s approval, the White House announced Thursday that COVID vaccinations for children under age 5 will likely begin as early as June 21. Ashish Jha, M.D., the White House COVID response coordinator, said that the federal government will initially make available 10 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to pharmacies and community health centers for children in this age group.

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