Sickle cell disease (SCD) affects the blood and makes people more vulnerable to serious illness due to COVID-19. Getting a COVID-19 vaccination is particularly important to reduce this risk in people with SCD.

Doctors use the term SCD to describe genetic conditions that affect hemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen in the blood.

People with SCD have abnormal hemoglobin that causes red blood cells to become sticky, hard, and C-shaped, like a sickle. These sickle cell blood cells die early, leading to a constant shortage of red blood cells.

Sickle cell blood cells can also block blood flow in smaller blood vessels, leading to severe pain and serious complications.

SCD affects more than 100,000 people in the United States. Most people with SCD in the U.S. are of African ancestry or identify as Black. People with the following backgrounds are also more likely to have SCD:

  • Hispanic
  • Southern European
  • Middle Eastern
  • Asian Indian

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that may cause a sore throat, a fever, and other symptoms. In some cases, COVID-19 can cause severe illness. COVID-19 vaccines safely and effectively reduce the risk of severe complications from the disease.

People with SCD are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 than the general population. This article discusses how COVID-19 vaccines may affect people with SCD.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

Was this helpful?
An empty vaccination center with lots of chairs and covered tables 1Share on Pinterest
aphichart/Getty Images

Several health organizations, including the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend that people with SCD should get the COVID-19 vaccine to reduce their risk of severe illness.

The CDC list a range of complications that people with SCD are more likely to develop, including:

The increased risk of these conditions means that people with SCD are more likely to become severely ill after infection with SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.

In particular, the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America highlights an overlap between acute chest syndrome and COVID-19. Both conditions affect the lungs, which may amplify the harm they can do to someone with SCD.

These organizations also state that people with SCD frequently attend hospitals and emergency departments with similar symptoms to COVID-19, such as fever and pneumonia symptoms. This makes it harder for doctors to diagnose and treat the conditions.

Vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC list SCD as a condition with a high risk of severe illness and advises anyone over 16 with the condition to get a vaccine. The ASH also encourages people with SCD to have the COVID-19 vaccination.

The average life expectancy of someone with SCD is 30 years lower than someone without the disease. People with SCD also have the highest rate of returning to a hospital within 30 days of discharge compared with people who have other conditions.

Therefore, it is particularly important for people with SCD to reduce their risk of severe illness where possible.

Extensive testing shows that COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective. The vaccine may cause some side effects, which most commonly include:

The vaccine rarely causes adverse events, such as severe allergic reactions.

Much of the research on vaccine safety is in people without SCD. However, trials are ongoing in this group. Studies investigating the responses of people with SCD to similar vaccines suggest that COVID-19 vaccinations are safe for people with SCD.

A 2022 study found that people with SCD did not show a notably higher risk of side effects or hospitalization following COVID-19 vaccination. The study authors stated that fewer than 1 in 10 people with SCD visited the hospital within a week of vaccination, which is similar to the average risk.

According to the ASH, the risk of vaccination side effects in people with SCD appears lower than that of severe illness due to COVID-19.

People with SCD should speak with a doctor about COVID-19 vaccinations. Healthcare professionals can discuss any concerns about vaccine side effects, efficacy, and the risk-reward ratio for each person.

A person may experience some immediate side effects from the vaccine, such as soreness at the injection site, tiredness, and fever.

However, people should see a doctor if symptoms worsen or if they think they are experiencing any rare adverse events, such as severe allergic reaction.

SCD refers to a group of genetic conditions that affect the blood. Additionally, SCD may cause a range of complications and increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Vaccination is a safe and effective way of reducing the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Research suggests that people with SCD are at no additional risk from the vaccine. Several medical and public health organizations encourage people with SCD to get vaccinations and reduce their risk of severe illness.

A person should speak with a doctor if they have any questions or concerns about the vaccine they would like to address.