BMI of 25 or higher makes adults eligible for vaccine March 29, but that could be someone who is relatively healthy

MADISON, Wis. — Of the 20 conditions that will make someone part of the next big group eligible for a vaccine in Wisconsin, there’s one that’s getting a lot of attention: body mass index.

Anyone 16 and older with a BMI of 25 or higher will become eligible on March 29. About 2 million Wisconsinites will become eligible then, including people with conditions such as asthma, cancer and Down syndrome.

Studies show that being overweight does contribute to a worse reaction to the coronavirus. The CDC says obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization and as your BMI increases, so does your risk of death from COVID.

But just like there are varying degrees of asthma or diabetes, there are varying degrees of being overweight. Someone with a BMI of 25 can look thin and healthy.

“The Green Bay Packers are probably all eligible in the 1C group,” said Dr. Matt Anderson at UW Health. “Because muscle mass is obviously contributing. You can have BMIs that are elevated for people who might not have those same levels of risk.”

Having a young, muscular athlete become eligible the same day as cancer patients and others with serious health conditions leaves it up to vaccinators to prioritize who gets a shot first.

DHS has given some ideas on how pharmacies, public health departments and health systems can do this.

“Such as perhaps prioritizing individuals with two or three high risk conditions. Or maybe start with younger adults who are 50-64 with one high risk condition, then you go to the younger age group,” said Mo Kharbat, SSM Health Wisconsin’s  VP of Pharmacy Services.

Kharbat said SSM Health has not decided how they will prioritize the next group yet. UW Health hasn’t either.

But Dr. Anderson said the process will likely include patients having to identify themselves as eligible.

“It is incredibly challenging to parse out who these people are. How do we identify them? And we’re going to depend on them to help us identify who they are. Because if we try to take all of that responsibility of us, we’re going to miss people,” said Anderson.

He said deciding who gets a shot before who is going to be challenging, grey and messy.

“It’s not going to be perfect, it’s not going to be. And it’s really difficult. How do you differentiate between someone who has cancer versus someone who is immune suppressed for condition 1, 2 or 3? How do you do that versus someone who has COPD? Or chronic heart failure? There’s going to be a large, large number of people who have those conditions,” said Anderson.

It is possible that we will see someone who is young, a little overweight, but otherwise relatively healthy, get a shot before someone who has a serious, chronic health condition.

Anderson encourages young and healthy people to be patient and allow those who are more at risk to get the vaccine first.