Everyone in Recovery From Addiction Should Be Vaccinated Against COVID-19
Many health indicators have been discovered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that raise a person’s risk of becoming very unwell with COVID-19. One of these is substance use disorder (SUD). As a result, being vaccinated is extremely important for drug users or addicts. People who have experienced stigma from the healthcare system as a result of addiction may be unwilling to get vaccinated; therefore, community leaders, healthcare practitioners, and others in the community must play a role in encouraging and facilitating drug-related vaccination.
A growing body of research supports the increased risk of COVID-19 infection in SUD patients: In an analysis of 73 million electronic health data from U.S. hospitals, my colleagues and I discovered that people with SUDs, particularly recent diagnoses, were at significantly higher risk of having COVID-19 or suffering its worst effects than other people; this was especially true for Black people. In studies conducted in Korea and New York City, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, evaluated data from 54,529 patients and observed comparable associations between SUDs and vulnerability to COVID-19. According to the researchers, this increased risk may be due to chronic cardiovascular or respiratory problems connected to substance usage.
Anyone over the age of 12 in the United States can now be vaccinated. People should not be denied immunization because of underlying health problems, such as substance misuse or a substance use disorder. Vaccines are being delivered for free throughout the country by communities and health systems, regardless of immigration status or health insurance coverage. The receivers cannot be charged for an office visit or any other price. All three FDA-approved immunizations are regarded to be equally effective and safe.
However, vaccine-related fears, misinformation, and distrust of the government and pharmaceutical industry are preventing many individuals from receiving life-saving vaccinations. Vaccine anxiety may be particularly problematic for persons who have a history of abuse by healthcare personnel as a result of drug use.
Last year, the Addiction Policy Forum (APF) conducted a survey and discovered that nearly half of their sample of people with substance use disorders (now using drugs, in treatment, or in recovery) were unwilling to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine. Respondents’ mistrust stemmed from distrust of the government, concerns about the speed with which vaccinations were being created, and doubts that they were at higher risk.
Respondents in the APF survey, on the other hand, said they trust their own doctor more than anyone else when it comes to making healthcare decisions, which is consistent with other surveys that show people trust their healthcare providers the most when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccination information. Health practitioners, as trusted messengers, are in the ideal position to persuade patients of the vaccines’ safety as well as the several essential benefits of immunization.
There is no indication that COVID-19 vaccinations are less safe or effective in persons who use drugs, have SUDs, or take addiction treatments. And the benefits extend far beyond reducing the likelihood of getting COVID-19 or suffering its most severe consequences for these people. Importantly, inoculation permits people to gather with others again in safety. Isolation is a risk factor for drug relapse, which is why some recovery groups have forced to suspend in-person sessions this year. Virtual meetings have saved some people’s lives; for others, they are insufficient or impossible to substitute face-to-face interactions. Vaccination will thus result in a return to normalcy for persons suffering from addiction and maybe other mental health issues such as sadness or anxiety that have been aggravated by the stress of isolation.
People who use drugs do not have to disclose their previous or current drug use when getting vaccinated. Providers of COVID-19 vaccination will not enquire about your drug or alcohol use. Recipients will be asked to provide no medical information about themselves, with the exception of known vaccine allergies or immune- or blood-related illnesses that may be relevant to receiving a vaccine. Pre-vaccination screening from the CDC is available for download.
Reaching out to drug users in their communities should be a priority for healthcare practitioners, pharmacies, treatment facilities, and anyone else involved in the immunization distribution effort. Organizations that provide opioid treatment and syringe services, for example, should make vaccines available at their facilities. Walk-in immunization clinics are now available in select places to assist those with hectic schedules and housing difficulties.
Some of the innovative tactics employed during the pandemic to give addiction therapy and drugs to persons with substance use disorders, such as mobile vans dispensing opioid use disorder medications, might also be used to provide COVID-19 vaccines. Telehealth modalities, which are increasingly being utilized for medication management, can be used to inform and urge patients to be vaccinated. Treatment facilities and other professionals can also contact patients by text messaging. With financing from the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts, APF has built a Vaccine Navigator to help people with opioid problems negotiate local vaccine scheduling complexities and address any concerns they may have about getting vaccinated.
More information on vaccines, how they’re created, and why it’s so vital to get vaccinated may be found in the APF film. Dr. Fauci and I collaborated on the recording.
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