The illness caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2 has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Credit: Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS / CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MSMI; Dan Higgins, MAMS

This story has been updated with comments in final paragraphs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized that people with schizophrenia and mood disorders such as major depression have a heightened risk of severe outcomes if they contract COVID-19, which increases their chances of being admitted to intensive care units, needing to be placed on ventilators and dying from these complications.

The decision, announced October 14, means that people with these mental health conditions will be among the groups eligible for vaccine booster shots, along with people who are over 65, long-term care facility residents, workers whose jobs put them at a high risk of COVID-19 exposure, and those who have other health complications such as heart disease, cancer or respiratory diseases. All of these groups are considered by the CDC to have higher risks of poor outcomes from the virus and thus are being given priority access to booster shots.

Several research papers published over the last several months have found that a number of mental health disorders increased the risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19. One, published in September in the British journal Lancet Psychiatry, found that patients with mental disorders had a two-fold risk of dying from the coronavirus, compared with people with no health complications.

That analysis reviewed studies of almost 1.5 million people, of whom about 44,000 had mental disorders. The increased risk was seen in people with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders including depression, substance use disorders and developmental disorders but not in people with anxiety disorders.

Another study in JAMA Psychiatry, released online in July, found that the greatest risk was in studies of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The CDC’s decision was praised in a joint statement by 16 leading mental health organizations.

“The CDC has now validated what we have known for many months, and we must get the word out,” said Schroeder Stribling, president and chief executive officer of Mental Health America. “The data is clear, the science is clear, and everyone living with a mental health condition should be aware.”

Saul Levin, chief executive officer and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association also lauded the CDC’s advisory. “By recognizing that severe mental illness is an underlying medical condition connected to a higher risk for COVID-19, the CDC will save lives,” he said.

Public health authorities and organizations rely on the CDC’s advice to allocate resources and prioritize vaccination efforts. Many are likely to use the list to target outreach and to determine eligibility for booster shots and services.

Rob Waters

Rob Waters, the founding editor of MindSite News, is an award-winning health and mental health journalist and contributing writer to Health Affairs. Waters has worked as a staff reporter or editor at Bloomberg...