Individuals With Down Syndrome Should Get Vaccinated For COVID-19 Early, CDC Recommends

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A first responder from Needham Fire Department receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Rosemary Recreational Center in Needham. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A first responder from Needham Fire Department receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Rosemary Recreational Center in Needham. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending individuals with comorbidities get vaccinated from the coronavirus early, which now includes those with Down syndrome.

Back in December, the CDC added people with Down syndrome to its list of those at high risk from severe illness resulting from COVID-19, alongside the elderly and the obese.

People with Down syndrome aren’t more likely to contract the coronavirus, but if they do, they have a greater risk of developing severe symptoms, says Joaquin Espinosa, executive director of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome. The increased risk is linked to trisomy 21, the genetic disorder that causes Down syndrome.

People with Down syndrome who develop COVID-19 are four times more likely to be hospitalized and 10 times more likely to die from the disease, he says.

“The increased risk conferred by Down syndrome in terms of COVID-19 hospitalization and mortality is equivalent to adding 40 years to your birth certificate,” he says. “Individuals with Down syndrome in their 40s and 50s are seeing rates of hospitalization and mortality similar to the general population in their 80s and 90s.”

Those findings are based on data from the United Kingdom published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Espinosa says. Data from the National COVID Cohort Collaborative shows similar trends for Down syndrome patients who have contracted COVID-19 in the U.S.

“We also have many other scientific lines of evidence suggesting that individuals with Down syndrome [who contract COVID-19] are going into this hyperinflammation, this super response to the virus that would create a number of complications,” he adds, referring to the cytokine storm immune response observed in some COVID-19 patients.

Espinosa says the Crnic Institute is working in collaboration with the Global Down Syndrome Foundation to ensure states give Down syndrome patients priority when it comes to vaccine distribution.

“I think the data is definitive to adopt the recommendation that individuals with Down syndrome be given priority,” he says. “Now the work ahead is to ensure that the various states also adopt the CDC guidelines.”

Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 15, 2021.


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Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.


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Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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