Everyone in Recovery From Addiction Should Be Vaccinated Against COVID-19
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) has identified many health factors that increase a person’s chance of becoming very ill with COVID-19. Substance use disorders (SUDs) are one of them. As a result, getting vaccinated is especially crucial for persons who use or are addicted to drugs. Because people with a history of stigma from the healthcare system as a result of addiction may be hesitant to get vaccinated, community leaders, healthcare practitioners, and others in the community must play a role in encouraging and facilitating drug-related vaccination.
An increasing body of evidence supports the higher risks of COVID-19 infection in patients with SUD: My colleagues and I discovered that people with SUDs, especially recent diagnoses, were at considerably higher risk of having COVID-19 or suffering its worst effects than other people in an examination of 73 million electronic health data from U.S. hospitals; this was especially true for Black people. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, analyzed data from 54,529 patients and discovered similar relationships between SUDs and vulnerability to COVID-19 in studies in Korea and New York City. Chronic cardiovascular or respiratory diseases linked to substance abuse, according to the researchers, may underlie this increased vulnerability.
Anyone in the United States above the age of 12 can now get vaccinated. People cannot be denied immunization due to underlying health issues, such as substance abuse or a substance use disorder. Vaccines are being distributed free of charge by communities and health systems around the country, regardless of immigration status or health insurance coverage. The office visit or any other fee cannot be charged to the recipients. All three vaccinations approved by the FDA are thought to be equally effective and safe.
However, vaccine-related anxieties, misinformation, and distrust of the government and pharmaceutical business are preventing many people from getting vaccinated, which could save their lives. Vaccine apprehension could be especially problematic for those who have had a history of abuse by healthcare professionals due to their drug use.
The Addiction Policy Forum (APF) conducted a poll last year and discovered that nearly half of their sample of people with substance use disorders (currently using drugs, in treatment, or in recovery) were unwilling to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine. Respondents cited distrust of the government, concerns about the speed with which vaccines were being developed, and skepticism that they were at higher risk as reasons for their skepticism.
However, respondents in the APF survey said they trust their own doctor more than anyone else when it comes to making healthcare decisions, which is consistent with other surveys showing that people trust their healthcare providers the most when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccination information. As trusted messengers, health professionals are in the best position to persuade patients of the vaccines’ safety as well as the numerous important benefits of vaccination.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are less safe or effective for people who use substances, have SUDs, or are taking addiction medications. And the advantages go far beyond lowering the risk of contracting COVID-19 or experiencing its worst effects for these people. Importantly, immunization allows people to safely gather with others once more. Isolation is a risk factor for relapse to drug use, which is why some recovery groups have had to halt in-person meetings this year. Virtual meetings have been a lifesaver for some; for others, they are insufficient or impossible to replace face-to-face encounters. Vaccination will thus bring a return to normalcy, including greater access to social supports, for people with addiction and possibly other mental health conditions like depression or anxiety that have been exacerbated by the stress of isolation.
People who use drugs don’t have to worry about having to declare their previous or current drug usage when getting a vaccination. COVID-19 immunization providers will not inquire about your drug or alcohol use. Recipients will not be required to divulge any medical information about themselves, with the exception of known vaccine allergies or immune- or blood-related diseases that may be relevant to obtaining a vaccine. The CDC’s pre-vaccination screening is available for download.
Healthcare practitioners, pharmacies, treatment facilities, and anyone involved in the vaccination distribution campaign should make it a priority to reach out to drug users in their communities. For example, opioid treatment and syringe-services organizations should make immunizations available at their locations. In some areas, walk-in vaccination clinics are now available to help people with busy schedules and housing situations.
Some of the innovative strategies used to provide addiction treatment and medications to people with substance use disorders during the pandemic, such as mobile vans dispensing opioid use disorder medications, could be used to provide COVID-19 vaccines as well. Patients can be informed and encouraged to get vaccinated using telehealth modalities, which are increasingly being used for medication management. Patients can also be contacted via text message by treatment centers and other providers. APF has established a Vaccine Navigator with funding from the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts to assist people with drug problems to navigate local vaccine scheduling complexities and address any concerns they may have about getting vaccinated.
See the APF video for more information on vaccines, how they’re made, and why it’s so important to get vaccinated. Dr. Fauci and I recorded together.
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