Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for conditions that result in breathing difficulties. As it affects the lungs, it can increase the risk of severe complications from COVID-19. Therefore, it is advisable for those living with COPD to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

COPD refers to a group of conditions that limit the functioning of the airways and causes trouble breathing. Evidence suggests that in 2018, more than 16 million people in the U.S. reported a diagnosis of COPD. As COVID-19 may lead to mild to severe respiratory problems, people with COPD are at a higher risk of more severe illness from COVID-19 due to their existing lung problems.

Evidence suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines available to those in America are safe and effective. Research also indicates that the vaccines are suitable and efficacious for people living with COPD.

In this article, we will discuss the safety and efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines for people living with COPD.

A person with COPD receiving their COVID-19 vaccine.Share on Pinterest
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In general, it is advisable for everyone to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. According to the American Lung Association, people with lung disease, such as COPD, should get a COVID-19 vaccine.

While COPD itself is not a risk factor for acquiring a SARS-CoV-2 infection, existing lung damage due to COPD means people are more likely to experience severe complications of COVID-19. A 2021 article highlights that having COPD can increases a person’s risk of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death from COVID-19.

As a result, it is highly advisable for people living with COPD to receive a vaccination as soon as it is feasible. The vaccines provide protection against the disease, due to an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Developing immunity through vaccination reduces the risk of a person developing the illness and its potential consequences.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that the only people who should not receive a COVID-19 vaccine are those with a contraindication to it. This refers to a condition or circumstance, such as an allergy, that may act as a reason not to receive the vaccine due to the harm it could cause.

To further reduce risk, It is important that family members and friends also receive the vaccine and all people continue practices, such as hand washing, physical distancing, and wearing masks, to provide the most protection for those that are most vulnerable.

Vaccine efficacy refers to two things: how well the vaccine performs in ideal conditions and the percentage reduction in a disease in a group of people who received a vaccination in a clinical trial. Vaccine effectiveness is the measure of how well a vaccine works when given to people in the community outside of clinical trials. An efficacious and effective vaccine will help to reduce hospitalizations and death.

Currently, there is no data on the efficacy and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines specifically in people with COPD. However, all approved vaccines available to those in the U.S. have displayed promising levels of efficacy. A preprint 2021 study suggests that those who are fully vaccinated are three times less likely to have a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

All authorized vaccines in the U.S. undergo stringent protocols to ensure safety. Both the CDC and the American Thoracic Society indicate that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for people living with lung conditions such as COPD. As evidence suggests that people living with COPD are more likely to experience severe complications form COVID-19, it is advisable for them to get the vaccine to increase their protection against SARS-CoV-2.

In the United States, the three available COVID-19 vaccines are generally safe for most people. However, as with most vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine may lead to side effects in anyone, including those living with COPD. It is unclear whether a person living with COPD is more likely than those without the condition to experience side effects from the vaccine. Some possible side effects may include:

  • injection site soreness
  • redness or swelling at the injection site
  • muscle pain
  • tiredness
  • fever
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • chills

Currently, in the U.S., the following vaccines are available under emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

There is no evidence to suggest that one vaccine is necessarily superior to the others, so health experts recommend getting any of the vaccines available, as they all provide protection against COVID-19. Individuals getting either the Pfizer vaccine or the Moderna may not mix vaccines. Both shots must be the same vaccine.

In August 2021, the CDC announced that the protection of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may decrease over time. Starting in mid-September, the CDC recommends a 3rd booster shot starting 8 months after a person’s second shot. Experts think that a booster shot for people that took the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also likely.

Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will not interfere with COPD treatments. Typically, COPD treatment may include breathing techniques, oxygen therapy, and medication to relax the airways and reduce swelling. Taking any of the available COVID-19 vaccines is unlikely to affect a person’s treatment plan.

Since people with COPD are at an increased risk for developing complications from respiratory infections, getting additional vaccines is vital. The CDC recommends people with COPD get certain vaccines to decrease their risk of increased respiratory symptoms and complications. The CDC advise that people with COPD receive the following vaccines:

  • Influenza (annual vaccine to prevent the flu)
  • Pneumococcal (vaccine to prevent pneumonia)
  • Tdap (vaccine to prevent tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough)
  • Zoster (vaccine to protect against shingles)

A person’s doctor may also recommend additional vaccines depending on a person’s lifestyle, age, and underlying conditions. A person can use this tool to see what other vaccines they may require.

It is important to contact a doctor if vaccine side effects continue for more than a few days. Usually, vaccine side effects may only last 1–2 days. If side effects get worse after a day or 2, it is also advisable to see a doctor.

If signs of a serious allergic reaction occur after getting the vaccine, people should seek emergency medical attention. Signs of an allergic reaction can include:

  • hives
  • trouble breathing
  • throat or tongue swelling

Individuals living with COPD are at a higher risk of severe complications of COVID-19, which makes them a higher priority for receiving the vaccine. Evidence suggests that the available vaccines are safe and effective for people with COPD. As a result, health experts recommend that people living with COPD should get their COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it is available to them.