(AP) — New US research on long-lived COVID-19 provides fresh evidence that it can also happen after breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals, and that older adults are at greater risk of the long-term effects.
In a study of veterans released Wednesday, about a third of breakthrough infections showed signs of long COVID.
A separate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that up to a year after a first coronavirus infection, 1 in 4 adults ages 65 and older had at least one potential long-term COVID health problem, compared with 1 in 5 younger adults .
Long COVID refers to any of more than two dozen symptoms that persist, recur, or appear for at least a month after a coronavirus infection. These can affect any part of the body and can include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, and blood clots.
Coronavirus vaccines, which help prevent first-time infections and serious illnesses, offer some protection from long-lived COVID, but mounting research isn’t showing as much as scientists had first hoped.
The Veterans Study, published in Nature Medicine, reviewed medical records of mostly white male veterans, averaging 60 years of age. Of the 13 million veterans, nearly 3 million had been vaccinated by October last year.
About 1% or nearly 34,000 developed breakthrough infections. The lead author Dr. Noting that the study was conducted before the highly contagious Omicron variant emerged later in the year, Ziyad Al-Aly said the rate of breakthrough infections has likely increased.
About a third of the US population lives in areas considered at risk, officials said. (CNN, NORTH WESTERN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, CDC, WHITE HOUSE)
Breakthrough infections and long COVID symptoms were more common among those who received Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine compared to two doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. It is not known whether anyone had received booster vaccinations; The first booster was only approved in the USA at the end of September.
Overall, 32% had long-term COVID symptoms up to six months after breakthrough infections. That compares to 36% of unvaccinated veterans who were infected and long ill with COVID.
The vaccine reduced the chance of long-lasting COVID symptoms by a “modest” 15%, although it halved the risk of persistent respiratory or clotting problems, said Al-Aly, a researcher with Washington University and the Veterans Affairs Health System in St.Ludwig . These symptoms included persistent shortness of breath or cough and blood clots in the lungs or veins in the legs.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Kristin Englund, who runs a center for long COVID patients at the Cleveland Clinic, said the Nature Medicine study mirrored what she sees at her clinic. Long-COVID patients there include people who have been vaccinated and have received booster shots.
“Because we don’t have clear treatments for long COVID, it’s important for everyone to get vaccinated and use other proven prevention methods like masking and social distancing to prevent infection with COVID and therefore long COVID,” Englund said.
The CDC report, released Tuesday, used medical records from nearly 2 million U.S. adults from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 through last November. Among them were 353,000 who had COVID-19. Patients were followed for up to a year to determine if they developed any of 26 health conditions attributed to long COVID.
Those who had COVID were much more likely than other non-COVID adults to develop at least one of these conditions, and risks were greatest for those aged 65 and older. Information on vaccinations, gender and race was not included.
Breathing problems and muscle pain were among the most common illnesses.
Older adults were at higher risk for certain medical conditions, including stroke, brain fog, kidney failure and mental health problems. The findings are concerning because these conditions can accelerate older adults’ need for long-term care, the report’s authors said.
They stressed that routine assessment of all COVID patients is “vital to reduce the incidence” of long COVID.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
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