ATLANTA — With the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expanding in Georgia Monday, one factor opens up the door to many Georgians. That group is for anyone who is overweight or obese by medical standards.

You are medically considered overweight, according to the CDC, if your body mass index (BMI) is over 25.

If you are an adult who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 150 pounds, your BMI is right at 25, according to this CDC calculator, intended for adults 20 years and older. Same goes for one who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 175 pounds. 

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According to the CDC, BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. It does not measure body fat directly, but BMI is moderately correlated with more direct measures of body fat.

So why is this now a factor considered by the Georgia Department of Public Health to get a vaccine? 

The CDC released the results of a small study showing, out of the COVID patients who were hospitalized between March and December of last year who needed ventilators and ultimately died, 28% of them were overweight and about 51% were obese.

"It's not a perfect measure, but it's a standard measure, and that's why it's utilized," Dr. Sujatha Reddy told 11Alive. She runs the calculation daily at her medical practice.

"No one should feel that they're taking advantage or being shamed by the system - being overweight is a risk factor," she said.

Still, some people bristled at the label.

"I've never been the self conscious type, so it doesn't bother me at all," Ryan Clifford said.

He didn't know his BMI off-hand, but when his wife told him he might now qualify to get vaccinated, he jumped at the chance.

"No, no I had no idea. I just looked online and realized that I would be far above that," he said.

Credit: Submitted
Ryan Clifford shared this picture of his family. Clifford became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to his BMI.

Some are joking about it online. Others may feel ashamed by the title. 

But if the number makes you uncomfortable, GSU Public Health Master's Candidate Beth Pollak says you don't have to disclose it.

"You are under no obligation to tell anyone why you are eligible to be vaccinated. You might have a different pre-existing condition that you don't want to disclose. So you don't have to say it's about your BMI, you just say, I'm in the eligible class," she said.

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Pollak has been advocating to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

And Clifford agrees, even if it was his BMI that got him the appointment.

"At this point, if there's vaccines available, there are a lot of people who would like those vaccines," he said.

How to check your BMI

The CDC has a calculator on its website. You simply input your height and weight and it will give you your personal BMI. It will also tell you what your "normal" weight range would be. 

To access the calculator, click here

What other health conditions qualify to get a vaccine now?

As of Monday, March 15, the new population category includes any adult 55 and over along with any adult 16 and over with the following health conditions:

  • Asthma (moderate to severe)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibroses
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart conditions
  • Immunocompromised state
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological conditions, like dementia, Parkinson's, ALS
  • Overweight and obesity (BMI > 25kg)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Thalassemia