The CDC Adds Mental Health Conditions to High-Risk Covid-19 List

The addition of mood disorders expands the list of Americans eligible for booster shots by millions

young Black women getting a vaccine
The CDC added mental health disorders to the list of primarily physical conditions that increase the risk of Covid-19 hospitalization or death.  Andriy Onufriyenko via Getty Images

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added mood disorders to the list of conditions that put people at high risk for severe Covid-19. Millions of Americans with conditions "including depression and schizophrenia spectrum disorders” are eligible for booster shots based on their mental health diagnosis alone.

The decision comes after mounting evidence that mental health conditions make individuals of any age more likely to become severely ill from Covid-19. A meta-analysis published this month in JAMA Psychiatry found a link between mood disorders and the risk of hospitalization and death from Covid-19, according to Lauren Frias for Insider. A study from January of this year found that Covid patients with schizophrenia were nearly three times more likely to die from the virus, though those with mood and anxiety disorders were not at an increased risk of death from coronavirus infection. A 2020 study from the Lancet Psychiatry was another to suggest that “a psychiatric diagnosis might be an independent risk factor.”

“Not only would it increase the risk of Covid, it would increase the severity of Covid once you have it,” says Maxime Taquet, the lead author of the Lancet study and a psychiatry researcher at Oxford University, to Dani Blum for the New York Times.

The CDC made the addition on October 14, adding mental health to the list of primarily physical conditions that increase the risk of hospitalization or death, like having a weakened immune system, diabetes, obesity, and substance use disorders, such as addiction to alcohol or opioids. One reason researchers are finding a link between mental health disorders and severe Covid-19 may be because long-term mental health conditions take a physical toll that makes patients more vulnerable to diseases.

Conditions like depression can “wreak havoc on the body’s immune system,” says Christine Crawford, an associate medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to the New York Times. “They’re at increased risk, just because of the impact the stress response has on the body.”

Around 19 million American adults—nearly 8 percent of the country—had at least one major depressive episode in 2019. Since then, the numbers have only grown. In 2020, the pandemic triggered 53 million new cases of depression globally, reports Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy. The CDC’s addition of mental health conditions to the high-risk list comes after months of deliberation and pressure from advocates.

"Taken together, we've got reasons to be hypervigilant for people who have depression," Roger McIntyre, an author of the recent study in JAMA Psychiatry, tells the Washington Post. "They've got to get in front of the queue to get their vaccines." 

Those currently eligible for a booster shot include roughly 70 million older and high-risk recipients who received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, and those 18 or older who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.

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