When Should I Worry About...

COVID-19: Who Is Most Vulnerable to Severe Illness?

March 19, 2020 - Katie McCallum

Anyone can get COVID-19, but some people are at higher risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19, including:

  • People over the age of 65
  • Those with certain underlying chronic health conditions

As you age, your immune system weakens, making it much harder for you to fight infections. This is what makes the elderly more vulnerable to experiencing serious complications of COVID-19, including pneumonia and even death.

But which chronic health conditions put a person at higher risk, and what extra steps should someone who's at high risk of developing COVID-19 take?

Which health conditions make someone more vulnerable to COVID-19?

COVID-19 can affect a person's lungs and heart, as well as many other organs and body systems.

The health conditions that put a person at higher risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19 include:

  • Being overweight
  • Cancer, or having a history of cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), moderate-to-severe asthma, pulmonary hypertension and interstitial lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Having a transplant (solid organ or blood stem cells)
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Heart conditions, including heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy and high blood pressure
  • HIV
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological conditions, including dementia
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Stroke
  • Substance abuse disorder

In addition, while the overall risk of severe disease is low, pregnant people are at an increased risk, when compared to nonpregnant people.

How to protect yourself if you're at higher risk

If you're over the age of 65 or have one of the health conditions listed above, it's very important that you take steps to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19 — even if you are vaccinated.

The CDC recommends the following:

It's also very important to be sure that your condition is well-managed by following your treatment plan, avoiding any potential triggers of your condition, scheduling check-ups as needed and consulting with your doctor if have questions about your condition.


Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will be able to help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on what to do next.


This article was updated on August 11, 2021 to reflect the current state of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

Categories: When Should I Worry About...
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