People who are overweight should ask for vaccine, obesity expert says

Studies show link between excess weight and worse outcomes from Covid-19

Obesity expert Professor Donal O’Shea has advised people who are overweight to see if they are eligible for an early vaccine due to having an increased risk of severe disease from Covid-19.

Recent studies from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Oxford University have found links between excess weight and worse outcomes from the coronavirus.

Prof O’Shea told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Friday that each excess stone a person is carrying puts them at greater risk of more serious implications from Covid-19. The endocrinologist advised people who are overweight to check their body mass index (BMI) to see if they should receive an earlier vaccine.

People with a BMI greater than 40kg/m², which puts them in the highest obese class, are considered by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to be “very high risk” and are part of Cohort 4 in the vaccination rollout. Those with a BMI of 35kg/m² are in the “high risk” group and in Cohort 7 if aged between 16 and 64. A healthy BMI ranges between 18.5 to 24.9kg/m².


A male who weighs over 20 stone or a female over 16 stone with a BMI of over 40 is “highly vulnerable” to the virus, said Dr O’Shea, who is the HSE’s clinical lead for obesity.

“For every stone you put on, you are more likely to end up in hospital and are much more likely to end up in intensive care,” he said.

A study published in the Lancet on Friday identified a link between bodyweight and severe disease from the coronavirus, particularly in younger adults.

The scientists from the University of Oxford found that the risk of worse outcomes from the virus rises in people with a BMI of 23kg/m².

The researchers found that the effect of excess weight on the risk of severe disease was greatest in people aged 20 to 39, while weight was less of a factor for those aged over 60.

According to the study, the risk of hospital admission was five per cent higher for each unit increase in BMI and the risk of ICU admission was 10 per cent higher for each unit increase. The risks associated with an increased BMI were greater for black people when compared with the white population.

The research echoed findings from scientists with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), which found morbidly obese men with chronic heart disease were at “significantly higher risk” of death from Covid-19 than other patient profiles.

Prof O’Shea urged people to find out their weight and then contact their GP to see if they qualify for an early vaccine. He said they can check the BMI using online BMI calculators.

Eight to 10 per cent of people have a BMI over 35 and they need to be prioritised for vaccination as it could be very serious for them if they got Covid-19, he warned.

Prof O’Shea said obesity is not a choice and people should not be judged. It is a chronic disease that is still stigmatised.

“People still blame themselves and people still are judged… If it was as simple as a choice we would not have obesity,” he said. –Additional reporting PA