The researchers found that adults with Down syndrome were roughly three times more likely to die—and the elevated risk was especially apparent beginning in the fifth decade of life. A forty-year-old with Down syndrome had a similar risk of dying from the coronavirus as an individual who was thirty years older in the general population.
The findings, which were published in The Lancet’s EClinical Medicine, emphasized that the data should lead to higher coronavirus vaccine prioritization for those with the genetic disorder.
“Our results, which are based on more than one thousand COVID-19 unique patients with Down syndrome, show that individuals with Down syndrome often have more severe symptoms at hospitalization and experience high rates of lung complications associated with increased mortality,” the study’s first author Anke Huels, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, said in a statement.
“These results have implications for preventive and clinical management of COVID-19 patients with Down syndrome and emphasize the need to prioritize individuals with Down syndrome for vaccination.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, Down syndrome is a genetic disorder typically caused by trisomy in which abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome twenty-one. This extra genetic material causes the developmental changes and physical features of Down syndrome.
Down syndrome varies in severity among individuals, causing lifelong intellectual disability and developmental delays. It is the most common genetic chromosomal disorder and cause of learning disabilities in children and is responsible for other medical abnormalities, such as heart and gastrointestinal disorders.
In order to collect the necessary data for the study, between April and October 2020, the T21RS COVID-19 Initiative launched an international survey of clinicians and caregivers of individuals with Down syndrome infected with the virus. The survey’s respondents were mainly from Europe, the United States, Latin America, and India.
“We are delighted to see that, partly based on our findings, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) included Down syndrome in the list of ‘high-risk medical conditions,’ which will prioritize those with this genetic condition for vaccination,” the study’s co-author Alberto Costa, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“Similar decisions have been made in the United Kingdom and Spain, and we hope that other countries will soon follow.”
The T21RS COVID-19 Initiative, established in March 2020, consists of a large group of physicians and scientists from seven countries and more than a dozen institutions collaborating to study the impact of the coronavirus in people with Down syndrome. Its aim is to gather and disseminate scientific information to support communities of individuals with Down syndrome and their families during the ongoing pandemic.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.