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CDC Adds Down Syndrome to COVID-19 List of High Risk Conditions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added Down syndrome to its list of underlying conditions with an increased risk for serious COVID-19 complications. Down syndrome advocates had been calling for the change for months.

Down syndrome appeared in the CDC’s Dec. 23 update to its list of higher risk conditions linked to severe COVID-19 complications. In a summary explaining the changes, the CDC said the update reflects “recent data supporting increased risk of severe illness among persons with Down syndrome from the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Several studies have shown that people with developmental disabilities have a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. One analysis found people with developmental disabilities were four times more likely to get COVID-19 and two times more likely to die compared to their typical peers. A second study came to similar conclusions.

People with Down syndrome also have unique risks for COVID-19 complications because they are more likely to have other health complications. Chronic heart issues, some requiring surgery, are common, as well as diabetes, asthma or a compromised immune system.

“Down syndrome alone doesn’t come with an increased risk for severe complications from this virus,” Dr. Abbie Smith, a pediatrician and mother of a child with Down syndrome, said on an episode of “The Hope Story” podcast. “We have to look at the underlying conditions that are sometimes associated with Down syndrome.”

Because of these underlying factors, advocates pushed for the addition of Down syndrome to the CDC’s list. This will also potentially help prioritize people with Down syndrome to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier in the process.

In addition to Down syndrome, the CDC’s latest update added sickle cell disease and chronic kidney disease for children as higher risk conditions for serious COVID-19 illness. Other chronic illnesses on the list include heart conditions, cancer, obesity, chronic kidney disease and diabetes, among others.

Header image via Passakorn Prothien/Getty Images