By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology
More proof is provided that long COVID is a reality through a series of studies coming out of St. Louis.
“Long COVID is absolutely a reality. It’s actually a tragic consequence of this global pandemic,” said first author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University.
Al-Aly’s research shows long COVID conditions can develop up to a year after a COVID-19 infection, even after a mild infection. Al-Aly and his team conducted extensive studies using big data analytics by diving into the vast de-identified database maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s the nation’s largest integrated health care delivery system. The research team discovered that even vaccinated people with mild breakthrough COVID-19 infections can experience debilitating, lingering symptoms that affect the heart, brain, lungs and other parts of the body
“It can affect the brain, the heart, the kidneys, the pancreas and literally every organ system. So, it’s not a small problem, it’s not a trivial problem,” said Al-Aly.
Depending on the type of long COVID complication, Al-Aly’s studies show that long COVID affects between nearly 5% to 30% of people who had a COVID-19 infection.
“And if you go with the single digit 5% of people with COVID-19 who will get long COVID, that translates to millions of people in the U. S., and many, many more around the world.”
Wanting to find out if COVID-19 vaccines provide protection from long COVID, the researcher team examined data of 113,474 unvaccinated COVID-19 patients and 33,940 vaccinated patients who had experienced COVID-19 breakthrough infections, all from Jan. 1 through Oct. 31, 2021. The study found that vaccination against the virus that causes COVID-19 reduced the risk of getting long COVID by 15% compared to unvaccinated people.
“Vaccines reduce the risk of long COVID, but do not eliminate the risk of long COVID,” said Al-Aly.
The data showed vaccinations reduced the risk of death by 34%.
While risks are higher for the unvaccinated, the study points to the need for more tools against the virus because long COVID poses risks to vaccinated people, too.
“We really need vaccines that reduce the risk of transmission. Current vaccine strategy does not do a very good job at reducing risk of transmissions. Current vaccines are designed to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death and severe disease, but they do not reduce transmission, so we vaccines that are more durable.”