What to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine If You Have Diabetes

Over 34 million Americans, about 1 in 10 U.S. adults, are currently living with type 2 diabetes, with many more unaware that they have the condition. People with diabetes are more likely to get severely ill and have serious complications from COVID-19.

The COVID-19 vaccine is a safe and effective way to lower your risk of serious medical complications, especially if you have diabetes. Getting vaccinated is central to lowering your risk of severe complications that can lead to hospitalization or death.

This article will look at what the science says about COVID-19 and diabetes, the importance of getting vaccinated, and any potential side effects of the vaccines.

An older woman getting a vaccine from a healthcare provider in a doctor's office.

Marko Geber/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The Research on COVID-19 and Diabetes

People living with diabetes have more severe symptoms, a worse overall prognosis, and a higher death rate when they have COVID-19. This is in part due to higher rates of pneumonia, hospitalization, and the possibility of having an exaggerated immune response, called a cytokine storm, in the presence of the virus.

In addition, research shows that diabetes is a major risk factor and contributor to the severity and mortality of people with COVID-19. There are multiple reasons why including comorbidities (coexisting conditions) associated with hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), immune dysfunction, possible obesity, and hypertension (high blood pressure).

People with diabetes are also two to three times more likely to be hospitalized in intensive care units for COVID-19 compared to non-diabetic patients and three to four times more likely to progress to critical or fatal disease, underscoring the importance of getting vaccinated.

COVID-19 Symptoms

If you are infected with the COVID-19 virus, you may develop a wide range of acute symptoms, typically two to 14 days after exposure, including:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Things to Know

1) People with diabetes should get the vaccine

Full vaccination, plus the booster, is the most effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19. Everyone 6 months and older are eligible for vaccination. People over the age of 5 are eligible for a booster.

Updated bivalent boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA. The CDC recommends one bivalent booster shot for all people over the age of 5, no matter the type of vaccine series initially received.

Children ages 5 years are only eligible to receive the bivalent Pfizer booster. Everyone ages 6 years and older can choose to get the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent booster.

For some people who are immunocompromised, an additional primary mRNA dose is recommended, followed by an updated booster. In limited situations, a monovalent Novavax booster dose may be used in people ages 18 and older who are unable to receive an mRNA vaccine.

2) Vaccination alone does not eliminate your COVID risk

Vaccination alone does not eliminate your risk of catching or getting sick from COVID-19, but it does reduce your risk of severe illness or medical complications. Wearing a mask in groups and diligently managing your diabetes with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes are additional measures you can take to stay protected.

3) There are four COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available in the United States

There are many vaccine candidates available around the world, but in the United States, the four that have gained FDA approval or authorization are:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech, available to people 6 months and older
  • Moderna, available to people 6 months and older
  • Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, available to people 18 years and older
  • Novavax, available to people 12 years and older

4) COVID vaccines are free

COVID vaccines are free for everyone in the United States, whether you have diabetes or not. 

Vaccine Side Effects

The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven safe and effective with only mild acute side effects, but approximately 50% to 90% of participants experience some adverse effects.

Injection site events include pain, redness, and swelling, whereas systemic effects include fever, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, and nausea. Symptoms usually resolve within 48 hours. 

Serious adverse events are extremely rare. The most common severe side effects of the mRNA vaccines are myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart). Both may cause symptoms of chest pain, racing heartbeat, and shortness of breath.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine may increase your risk of blood clots. Due to possible side effects from the J&J COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people seek one of the mRNA vaccines (Moderna or Pfizer) or the Novavax vaccine over the J&J vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of the J&J vaccine.  


People living with diabetes are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 infection, including complications such as pneumonia and hospitalization and death. If you have diabetes, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 can reduce your risk of severe illness and death.

A Word From Verywell

Research does not conclude that people with diabetes are more likely to get COVID-19, but studies do point to a higher likelihood in severe illness and medical complications in unvaccinated people with diabetes, underscoring the importance of immunization in this high risk group.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is the COVID vaccine safe?

    The COVID-19 vaccine has proven to be extremely safe and effective, with adverse effects occurring on an extremely rare basis.

  • Where can you get a COVID test?

    Low or no-cost COVID-19 tests are available to everyone in the U.S., including the uninsured, at health centers and select pharmacies nationwide. These sites can be located using the tools on hhs.gov. 

  • Where can you get a COVID vaccine?

    You can find a COVID vaccine site near you on the website of your local or state health department, vaccine.gov, and by calling the toll-free number 1-800-232-0233. Most pharmacies, like Target, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS also administer vaccines but call ahead of time to see if you need to make an appointment.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.