Psychiatric Disorders May Increase Risk Of Breakthrough Covid, Study Finds


People diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder are about 3.7% more likely to experience a Covid-19 infection after being vaccinated than people without psychiatric disorders, according to a study published Thursday by JAMA Network Open that suggested a need for Covid-19 prevention efforts geared toward people with mental health difficulties.

Key Facts

Substance use disorder was associated with a roughly 16% higher risk of breakthrough infection compared to people without any psychiatric disorder diagnoses, making it the disorder most strongly tied to infection risk, researchers affiliated with the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System and the University of California San Francisco Department of Psychiatry found.

Adjustment disorder—which may be triggered by a stressful life event and includes symptoms like trembling and severe feelings of tension or hopelessness—was linked to a roughly 13% higher chance of breakthrough infection.

The association between psychiatric disorder diagnoses and elevated breakthrough Covid-19 risk was strongest among patients 65 and over, reflecting the generally higher vulnerability to Covid-19 among older people.

As well as controlling for typical factors like age and sex, researchers controlled for obesity, smoking and medical conditions like diabetes, which might play a complicating role in the relationship between mental health and Covid-19 risk.

The study drew on records from 263,697 fully vaccinated patients who accessed Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare between February 2020 and November 2021 and had no record of testing positive for the coronavirus before vaccination.

Key Background

Before vaccines were widely available, people with psychiatric disorders were at greater risk of contracting Covid-19 and experiencing severe outcomes like hospitalization and death, according to the authors of the JAMA Network Open study. Scientists are still working to untangle the precise relationship between mental health and Covid-19 vulnerability. Studies published in the Lancet and elsewhere indicate that people with certain psychiatric disorders have lowered immune function or poor response to vaccines, suggesting they might have reduced immunity to Covid-19 after vaccination. Additionally, a 2022 study published by the American Psychological Association found a correlation between certain post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and risky Covid-19 behaviors like taking air travel for vacation or attending events with large crowds. Because of their elevated risk from Covid-19, there is a need for booster shot and public health campaigns directed at people with psychiatric disorders, the JAMA Network Open study authors said.

Surprising Fact

Researchers found that psychotic disorder diagnoses were associated with a 10% lower risk of breakthrough infection among people under 65—the only instance in which a psychiatric disorder diagnosis was tied to a lower breakthrough risk.

Further Reading

“Mental Illness Risk Soars After Covid Infection, Study Finds — Even With Milder Cases” (Forbes)

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