The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines long COVID as health problems lasting four or more weeks after first getting infected with the novel coronavirus, impacting as many as one out of every four patients who are diagnosed with COVID-19. The aftermath of symptoms for self-described “long haulers” is unfortunately all too real: one patient shared that even after a full 12 months since he “recovered” from his COVID-19 infection, he is still dealing with symptoms like trouble breathing, coughing, shortness of breath and having to rely on an oxygen tank because of severely damaged lungs. Other symptoms patients may experience include memory or concentration issues, depression or anxiety and even dizziness or joint pain. While these symptoms are concerning, there are preventative health interventions that can significantly boost protection against COVID-19 and long COVID: receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and taking precautions like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and to date, more than 391 million doses of vaccines have been administered in the U.S. The vaccines were thoroughly researched and meet high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing. Unfortunately, the Delta variant is making breakthrough infections more common. It is well documented, however, that not only do vaccines remain highly effective against Delta, but that people who are fully vaccinated are also substantially less likely to be hospitalized or to develop long COVID symptoms.
We know our work isn’t done. Biopharmaceutical researchers are investigating the causes of long COVID to better treat patients who no longer test positive for the virus but are still dealing with the symptoms. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently established the “RECOVER project” which has allocated funding for research on long COVID-19 patients. This project will combine existing and new research by biopharmaceutical companies to speed up the timeline of understanding and treating these patients, giving hope and providing doctors and researchers with a deeper knowledge of how to treat them. Because long COVID symptoms can stem from issues in several body systems at once, care and treatment must be personalized by the health care provider. Fortunately, there are many treatment options that help the cardiac/pulmonology system, neurologic and psychiatric system, and pain related to joints. In addition, there are 13 ongoing clinical trials that aim to determine which therapies will work best for long COVID symptoms, which currently include anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant therapies.
Long COVID will continue to be a health care complication as long as there are individuals who continue to be unprotected and not get vaccinated. It is critical everyone who is able to get vaccinated does so. I'm confident that we will continue to beat back COVID-19 because the vaccines are safe and effective. This has been established from both rigorous clinical studies and real-world information gathered from millions of people.
Protect yourself and protect your community. Get vaccinated and take precautions. Learn more at PhRMA.org/Coronavirus.