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People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are usually treated with medications that can suppress your natural immune reactions.

While this has improved the outlook for people with Crohn’s disease, immune suppression also raises concerns about COVID-19 infection and vaccination.

The latest research shows that people with Crohn’s disease don’t necessarily need to be more worried about COVID-19 — or the vaccine — than anyone else. Keep reading to find out why.

When vaccines to fight COVID-19 were first given emergency authorization in late 2020, there were a lot of questions about who should get the vaccine first. Many also questioned if the vaccine would work in people with autoimmune conditions or on immunosuppressant medications.

In early 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that people with certain chronic conditions were at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming more sick with the virus.

Crohn’s disease isn’t on the CDC’s list of high-risk conditions, but weakened immune systems from a medical condition or medication is.

Despite the fact that immunosuppressant medications can increase your risk of a more severe case of COVID-19, the CDC also warned that there hasn’t been much research on the vaccine’s impact on people with autoimmune disorders or on immune-suppressing medications.

This lack of data led CDC to initially recommend that people with altered immune systems or conditions could receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but they should do so with caution.

This, and the fact that Crohn’s disease wasn’t found to increase COVID-19 risk, meant that people with Crohn’s were left off of early vaccination eligibility lists.

What the science says

While there are still no official recommendations from the CDC specific to COVID-19 vaccination in people with Crohn’s disease, early studies on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in people with IBD are promising.

Researchers have also been conducting blood tests in IBD patients receiving infusions, measuring the antibody response in people who’ve received the vaccine. Early results show good immune responses after the vaccine, but the final data won’t be released until later in 2021.

Other studies have found little solid data on how well the vaccine can protect people who live with Crohn’s disease or take immunosuppressants. But they didn’t find any major safety concerns or adverse effects reported in people with these conditions who’ve been vaccinated.

While research shows that people with Crohn’s disease aren’t at any higher risk for COVID-19 than the general population, the CDC does have guidance for people who have suppressed immune systems.

Since many people with Crohn’s and IBD take immunosuppressants to manage their condition, the following precautions are recommended to reduce COVID-19 risks:

  • Continue your regular medications and treatment plan to keep your condition under control.
  • Keep at least a 30-day supply of your medications on hand to reduce trips to the pharmacy.
  • Keep your home stocked with nonperishable foods to reduce trips to the grocery store.
  • Don’t delay emergency care or healthcare visits for your condition if you experience a flare-up or changes.
  • Keep up on preventive care and wellness visits.
  • Use COVID-19 prevention measures like good hand hygiene and mask wearing when in public.

There’s limited data on the effects of COVID-19 infection in people with chronic conditions, and there are no organized large-scale studies.

But research shows that people with Crohn’s aren’t at a higher risk of contracting or becoming severely ill from the virus, compared with the rest of the population.

Even people who were treated with immunosuppressant medications haven’t appeared to become sicker with COVID-19 at the time of this writing.

There are still plenty of reasons for people to take extra precautions against COVID-19 if they live with chronic conditions or take immunosuppressant medications.

But early research suggests that disease risk and severity are no worse in people with Crohn’s than in the general population.

Certain groups in the IBD populations did have increased infection and illness, but those specific groups — older people, men, and people living with multiple conditions — were also at higher risk in the general population.

There haven’t been any formal, large-scale studies on how people with Crohn’s disease fare when infected with COVID-19, or how well vaccines work in protecting people with Crohn’s or IBD specifically.

Early research does suggest that COVID doesn’t pose any greater risk to people with Crohn’s than the general population, and that the vaccine is safe and adequately effective in protecting against the virus.

Studies planned for later in 2021 are expected to offer more official guidance on COVID safety and vaccination in people with Crohn’s and IBD.