22 January 2024

People with sickle cell disease have lower rates of vaccination against COVID-19 – despite the fact they have an increased risk of serious illness or death if they develop the disease, according to a new study.

Analysis by Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical centre, USA, found teens and children over five with sickle cell disease were far less likely than other young people to have had their COVID-19 vaccines by the summer of 2022.

Working with colleagues from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and U-M School of Public Health, the team linked individual-level data from the statewide sickle cell data collection programme and immunisation registry. They analysed records from 3,424 people over age five with sickle cell disease, and 9.4 million Michiganders without sickle cell over the age of five.

The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, show that 61% of the Michiganders without sickle cell disease and 33.5% of those with sickle cell disease had received at least the primary dose or doses of COVID-19 vaccines by August 2022.

The over-65s had the highest vaccination rates, at 74% for those with sickle cell disease and 87% for the general population. However, there were only 110 people with sickle cell disease in this age group, due to a combination of early mortality and less comprehensive data for this age group.

In adults aged 18 to 64, the difference between the two groups was similar to the overall average, but rates were much lower in children and teens with sickle cell disease. This is despite previous research indicating that this younger age group is more likely to be hospitalised and have a higher mortality rate if they develop COVID-19 compared to young people without sickle cell disease.

The team, which is behind the Michigan Sickle Cell Data Collection Program (MiSCDC), part of the national Sickle Cell Data Collection Program, found 17% of children aged five to 11 with sickle cell disease and 31% of young people aged 12 to 17 had received a primary series of COVID-19 vaccine. This compares to 25% and 41% of the general Michigan population in these age groups.

Dr Sarah Reeves, principal investigator at MiSCDC, said: “It is essential to develop targeted interventions to increase COVID-19 vaccination among people with sickle cell disease.

“This population is chronically underserved in healthcare and society, emphasising the importance of increasing the accessibility and acceptability of these vaccines.”


Peng HK, Dombkowski KJ, Plegue MA, Latta K, Malosh R, Creary MS, Reeves SL. (2024) “COVID-19 Immunization Coverage Among People With Sickle Cell Disease.” JAMA Network Open, doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.51618.

Link: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2813520

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