New research that casts doubt on vaccines’ ability to protect against “long COVID” suggests that if the virus itself becomes endemic, its lingering aftermath will go nowhere without new treatments or vaccines.
Why it matters: Long COVID is emerging as the next phase of the global health crisis. However, it is still unclear how many more people will experience serious health aftershocks as more variants develop and the population continues to develop more immunity.
Driving the news: A Department of Veterans Affairs study of nearly 34,000 vaccinated people who had breakthrough infections in 2021 found that the vaccinations only reduced the chances of a long COVID by about 15%.
- Researchers examining patients up to six months after testing positive found no difference in the severity or range of symptoms between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
- The risk of a long COVID is higher in people with breakthrough infections than in people with seasonal flu.
- The study in naturopathy Considered the most comprehensive effort to find out how likely people with breakthrough infections are to develop long-term COVID, and comes after the US registered 83.8 million cases.
- The research didn’t cover the Omicron wave, and experts say it’s still unclear whether the highly contagious variant is just as likely to cause COVID for a long time as previous strains.
What you say: “We are literally exclusively, now almost exclusively, dependent on the vaccine to protect ourselves and the public,” said lead author Ziyad Al-Aly of the VA St. Louis Health Care System Nature. “Now we’re saying it’s only going to protect you 15%. They remain vulnerable, and extremely so.”
Yes but: The study has limitations and relied on electronic records that may not get to the underlying cause of a doctor’s visit.
- “How do you know that a visit to the doctor for a headache is related to a previous COVID?” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization. “They’re not just based on billing codes.”
- A British study this year found that two doses of the vaccine roughly halved the likelihood of having symptoms for 28 days or more after a breakthrough infection.
What we observe: The VA results come as drugmakers like GlaxoSmithKline, Vir Biotechnology and Humanigen begin training treatments that target long-COVID, Reuters reports.
Since comparatively few clinical studies are in progress, Scientists are trying to learn more about the basics of the condition, which can cause hundreds of different symptoms.
Smaller pharmaceutical companies and biotechs without approved products are also exploring possible combination therapies and other treatments to try in long COVID patients, a review of SEC filings by Endpoints News found.
go deeper: Medical research is uncovering increasing evidence that Long COVID is a serious, chronic disease whose symptoms, although not always ideally documented, are unmistakable.
- Nearly 25 million Americans may have experienced neurological problems, cognitive difficulties, breathing problems and organ damage related to long COVID.
- Recent studies have found that half of hospitalized patients have at least one persistent symptom two years after infection and that some patients with reduced physical capacity are four times more likely to develop abnormal blood clotting.
- The medical system remains ill-equipped to deal with chronic conditions of this magnitude, and many patients who develop symptoms have to pay for out-of-pocket care due to gaps in unemployment and disability insurance.
Our thought bubble: With mask requirements and social distancing largely taking a back seat, the results are a sobering reminder that we rely almost exclusively on limited-protection vaccines to keep the public safe.