Does Obesity Affect Vaccine Response?


Joshua Rhein, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, discusses whether obesity affects vaccine response and what can be done.

Investigators know that obesity affects how well a patient responds to a vaccine. However, according to Joshua Rhein, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota in the division of infectious disease in the program of HIV medicine, University of Minnesota Medical Center, why vaccines are not as effective in patients who are obese. Rhein spoke with Infection Control Today® about the subject in a 2-part interview.

Rhein discusses how investigators are researching the connection between obesity and vaccine response. “It’s poorly understood and under research, but we do know that obesity itself can affect the immune system. We know this from different vaccine studies that we've done and epidemiology studies on kinds of infection rates. Overall, we don't understand how this works, and more research is needed to determine the link between obesity and reduction [of infection rates],” according to Rhein.

Part of the reason that obesity is not well understood is “it's something that isn't routinely collected. When we're collecting study data on vaccines is something other than what we usually think of as having an important effect on immune responses. Hopefully, as we recognize that there is a link between obesity, the immune system, and vaccine effectiveness, patient weight is something that we can start to collect routinely,” Rhein told ICT. “Not once either because [a patient’s weight] is such a liquid measure, something that can be measured throughout participation and clinical trials.”

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