Research led by King’s College London in collaboration with the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) and the Trisomy 21 Research Society (T21RS) finds increased COVID-19 mortality among adults with Down syndrome compared to the general population, emphasizing the need to prioritise vaccinations for those with the genetic disorder. The results of the study were recently published in The Lancet’s EClinical Medicine.

In this latest study, Professor André Strydom from King’s College and his colleagues from several countries around the world found that a 40-year-old individual with Down syndrome has a similar risk of dying from COVID-19 as an 80-year-old without Down syndrome.

“Our results, which are based on more than 1,000 COVID-19 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. 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” says Dr Anke Huels, assistant professor of epidemiology and environmental health at Emory University in the USA, first author on this paper. She worked with other researchers from the T21RS’s committees including Professors Stephanie Sherman (also from Emory University), Alberto Costa (Case Western Reserve University) and Mara Dierssen (CRG, Barcelona) to develop the survey.

A previous study by the CRG’s Mara Dierssen found that TMPRSS2, a gene that codes for an enzyme critical for aiding the entry of SARS-CoV-2 in human cells, had 60% higher levels of expression in Down syndrome. The gene is located on chromosome 21, which people with Down syndrome have three copies of.

Professor Strydom, who is also the president of the Trisomy 21 research society, adds that “Partly based on our findings, the U.K. government recently included adults with Down syndrome as an ‘extremely clinically vulnerable group’. Similar decisions have been made by the CDC in the USA and by the government of Spain and we hope that other countries will soon follow with prioritisation of adults with Down syndrome for vaccination.”

For the study, researchers launched an international survey for clinicians and caregivers of individuals with Down syndrome who were infected with COVID-19, with data collected between April-Oct. 2020. The analysis included data from the ISARIC4C hospital survey of individuals admitted with COVID-19 from England, and the research was supported by the Down’s syndrome association, Down syndrome education international, and Down syndrome international, all based in the U.K.

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