Diabetes and COVID-19 Vaccine

Unless your doctor advises otherwise, you should get the COVID-19 vaccine--especially if you have an underlying medical condition, like diabetes.

You are not more prone to catching COVID-19 if you have diabetes. But, if you become infected, then you are at risk of developing serious disease faster, says Gwendolyne Anyanate Jack, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College.  “Patients with diabetes mellitus  may be at risk of suffering more severe complications, prolonged hospitalizations, greater mortality, and increased recovery time  after they’re discharged from the hospital,” Dr. Jack says.

This increased risk for complications occurs with both type 2 and type 1 diabetes, possibly because diabetes in general causes inflammation in the body, which COVID-19 intensifies. Diabetes also increases the likelihood for circulatory problems, which increase the risk for stroke, and which COVID-19 may also aggravate.

Protect Yourself & Stay Healthy

To protect yourself, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) urges you to:

  • Practice social distancing
  • Wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth  when  in public spaces,  or  in the vicinity of others  who do not live in your household
  • Wash your hands well and often (or use hand sanitizer if that’s not possible)
  • Avoid  large  crowds and unnecessary travel
  • Not touch  your mouth, nose, or eyes
  • Clean household surfaces regularly

Monitoring Your Health At Home

In the meantime, monitor your diabetes. This calls for staying in touch with your endocrinology or primary care physicians, who can help you control your blood sugar, adjust your medications, and deal with any diabetes-related emergencies. “Viral infections, including COVID-19,  can increase blood sugar levels, which could lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which requires prompt medical attention,” Dr. Jack says. “Patients need to work with their medical team to optimize glycemic control. That means  following up regularly to ensure they are on the right doses of the right medications and following a tailored nutritional and exercise plan.”

Thanks to telemedicine, you can consult with many physicians from the comfort of your home. You might also be able to upload and share your glucose data with your providers in advance of  your  appointment. If you plan to see your physician in person, then you may want to bring along your glucose monitoring device or data so you can review them with your physician, Dr. Jack advises.

If you don’t feel comfortable leaving home, then you should keep at least 90-days’ worth of diabetes medicines, including insulin, on hand, says Laura Alonso, M.D., Chief of Endocrinology. “We're recommending as much as three months of medication on hand,” she says. Fortunately, some pharmacies offer home delivery, which is helpful if you fear going outside, Dr. Alonso adds.

Regular blood tests are important when you have diabetes. Some phlebotomy labs have implemented safeguards--like issuing appointment times--so that you won’t have to wait online or among a crowd of people, Dr. Alonso says. “There are also services that actually can draw your lab tests in your own home if it can be set up,” she notes.

In the meantime, make sure to get a flu shot. “Having both flu and the virus that causes COVID-19 could have disastrous results,” Dr. Jack explains.  “We encourage and advise patients to get the  flu vaccine  so they have as much protection as possible.”  

If you feel ill and think your symptoms could be COVID-19-related, then schedule a video visit with urgent care to determine if you need to be seen in person. “If you are having any kind of symptoms that you think are worrisome and need to be evaluated in an emergency room, then don’t hesitate to seek care,” Dr. Alonso says.

And wherever you can, try to reduce your stress. “Higher stress levels can affect diabetes and raise blood sugars,” Dr. Alonso says. “It can make it hard to make good choices with respect to the food you eat and taking medication,” Dr. Alonso says. Try to stay physically active and connect by video with friends and family. “I encourage everyone to maintain all of those connections that help us get through these difficult times.”