Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: To Those Who Smoke or Are Obese — Get the Covid Vaccine ASAP

By Erik Fessler

As you may know, those with certain health conditions that increase their risk of severe Covid-19 currently qualify for the vaccine here in the Fairfax Health District. Among those conditions are smoking and obesity, or severe obesity.

I believe that the known long-term risks of Covid-19 far outweigh the possible unknown risks of the new vaccines. I also weigh a bit more than I’d like. I checked my BMI online and confirmed that I qualify for the vaccine due to obesity.

This would seem like a cause for celebration. And yet, I stared at my computer for about half an hour before I could bring myself to request an appointment. As much as I wanted to get the vaccine, I knew there would be a price to pay for this early access.

Many of us have seen our healthcare provider friends and other essential workers posting excited selfies with their vaccine records. The vaccine selfie seems to be becoming a right of passage almost as essential as the second vaccine shot itself. It’s only a matter of time until HuffPost blasts our news apps with “6 Tips on How to Make Your Vaccine Selfie Shine! (and your personal information easier to read for identity thieves!)”

I doubt we’ll see a rash of vaccine selfies from anyone receiving an early vaccine due to their weight or cigarette usage. The best-case scenario is that members of my cohort will likely keep their early vaccinations a dirty little secret. My fear, however, is that many of us simply won’t request an early appointment at all.

There is no shortage of news reports, tweets, and even sports forum posts featuring folks criticizing their officials’ decisions to prioritize these conditions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Essentially, the question many are asking is: “If we give early vaccine access to smokers and the obese, aren’t we just incentivizing these bad habits?”
My friends, if anyone in your life asks this question, I urge you to respond with a question in turn:

“If I wait to get this vaccine until the date you think I’m supposed to get it and develop a severe case of Covid-19 in the interim, how much will you contribute to my medical bills and/or funeral costs? Dollar figure, please.”

Is that blunt? Absolutely. But sometimes a blunt response is the most effective vaccine to an asinine idea.

Giving smokers and the obese vaccine priority isn’t encouraging anyone to maintain these health conditions, and it certainly isn’t encouraging anyone new to adopt them.

As anyone who’s tried to quit smoking or lose weight can confirm, they’re not as simple as giving up bad habits. I’m not even convinced it’s fair to call them habits.

You see, bad habits include tapping on your desk when you’re bored, or thinking you know more about high-risk medical conditions than medical professionals. These can be given up quickly and easily with a high degree of success.

The high failure rates for conquering smoking (over 50 percent in the first year according to Respiratory Care) and obesity (90 percent overall according to Michigan Medicine) tell a different story. Smoking and obesity are less habitual and more addiction and affliction.

These daunting statistics shouldn’t prevent anyone from trying to live a healthier lifestyle. Things that are worth doing are rarely easy. However, we have to be realistic about the practicality of expecting people to radically change their health in lieu of receiving a prioritized vaccination.

Some may joke about buying cigarettes or gorging on fast food to get a vaccine more quickly. But let’s keep in mind that the joke works because it’s an absurd idea.

No one’s jumping on Robinhood to buy Philip Morris and McDonald’s stock to profit off an oncoming cigarette and hamburger boom. If people were actually incentivized to “get fat and smoke” by being given priority access to the vaccine, forget the moon, these stocks would be headed outside the solar system. They’d be going Voyager I.

Let’s be clear — the CDC didn’t put smoking and obesity on the conditions list to do anyone any favors, except of course keeping people alive. CDC health experts studied health, have years of experience, did real research that didn’t involve binging YouTube videos, and this was their findings.

So if you qualify for the vaccine due to a health condition that increases your risk of severe Covid-19, I urge you to sign up for an appointment with the Fairfax Health District and/or the CVS vaccine distribution program immediately.

I’d also like to ask the community as a whole not to embrace hysterical and anti-scientific attitudes. Please do not make anyone who currently qualifies for this vaccine feel any more self-conscious than they likely already feel.

None of the CDC risk factors are ranked or placed in a hierarchy. However, their list is organized. The specialists sorted their list in a way that professionally made sense to them.

Alphabetically. And that, neighbors, is the only way this list of conditions should be viewed.


Erik Fessler is the President of the Falls Church Young Democrats