We understand that older people are especially vulnerable to complications from COVID-19. Death rates among senior citizens are substantially higher than among other age groups. They are not the only ones, however. New research indicates that people with schizophrenia are also at high risk for dying of COVID-19 (JAMA Psychiatry, Jan. 27, 2021).
How Does COVID-19 Affect People with Schizophrenia?
This research utilizes data from the spring 2020 surge of COVID-19 in New York City. The investigators reviewed medical records from 7,348 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 between March 3 and May 31. The records included the 45 days following laboratory confirmation of the infection, with the final follow-up date on July 15, 2020.
Of these patients, 14 percent had pre-existing mood disorders, anxiety or schizophrenia. The people with schizophrenia were 2.7 times more likely to die within 45 days from this infection. People with anxiety or mood disorders did not die more often than those without mental disorders, once the investigators adjusted for medical risk factors.
The authors of the study report:
“The most notable finding from this study is the high risk of mortality associated with schizophrenia spectrum diagnoses, ranking second behind age in strength of an association among all demographic and medical risk factors examined in this sample.”
They also suggest that people with schizophrenia be prioritized for vaccination to protect them against the life-threatening complications of COVID-19. However, this idea is not reflected so far in the CDC specifications of underlying medical conditions.