In a first, study suggests vaccinated less likely to suffer long COVID

In a first, study suggests vaccinated less likely to suffer long COVID

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New York: People who experience breakthrough infections of the coronavirus after being fully vaccinated are about 50 per cent less likely to experience long COVID-19 than are unvaccinated people who catch the virus, researchers said in a large new report on British adults.

The study, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, also provides more evidence that the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines offer powerful protection against symptomatic and severe disease.

Researchers say the research shows a significant benefit from vaccination.Credit:

“This is really, I think, the first study showing that long COVID is reduced by double vaccination, and it’s reduced significantly,” said Dr Claire Steves, a geriatrician at King’s College London and the study’s lead author.

Although many people with COVID-19 recover within a few weeks, some experience long-term symptoms, which can be debilitating. This constellation of lingering aftereffects that have become known as long COVID-19 may include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, heart palpitations and other symptoms. But much about the condition remains mysterious.

“We don’t have a treatment yet for long COVID,” Steves said. Getting vaccinated, she said, “is a prevention strategy that everybody can engage in.”

The findings add to a growing pile of research on so-called breakthrough infections among vaccinated people. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that the highly contagious delta variant is causing more of these breakthroughs than other versions of the virus, although infections in fully vaccinated people still tend to be mild.

The new findings are based on data from more than 1.2 million adults in the COVID Symptom Study, in which volunteers use a mobile app to log their symptoms, test results and vaccination records. The participants include those who received at least one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines between December 8 and July 4, as well as a control group of unvaccinated people.

Of the nearly 1 million people who were fully vaccinated, 0.2 per cent reported a breakthrough infection, the researchers found. Those who did get breakthrough infections were roughly twice as likely to be asymptomatic as were those who were infected and unvaccinated. The odds of being hospitalised were 73 per cent lower in the breakthrough group than the infected, unvaccinated group.

The odds of having long-term symptoms — lasting at least four weeks after infection — were also 49 per cent lower in the breakthrough group.

“Of course, vaccines also massively reduce your risk of getting infected in the first place,” Steves said. That lowered risk means that vaccination should reduce the odds of long COVID-19 by even more, she noted.

The study has limitations, the researchers acknowledge, the most notable of which is that the data is all self-reported. Long COVID-19 is also difficult to study, with wide-ranging symptoms that may vary enormously in severity.

But Steves said that she hoped the findings might encourage more young people, whose vaccination rates have lagged behind in the UK, to get the shots. Young adults are less likely to become seriously ill from the virus than older adults, but they are still at risk for long COVID-19, she noted.

“Being out of action for six months has a major impact on people’s lives,” she said. “So, if we can show that their personal risk of long COVID is reduced by getting their vaccinations, that may be something that may help them make a decision to go ahead and get a vaccine.”

Meanwhile, a large study into the effects of long-term COVID symptoms suggests that kidney issues can last for months after patients recover from the initial infection and may lead to a serious lifelong reduction of kidney function in some patients.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, found that the sicker COVID patients were initially, the more likely they were to experience lingering kidney damage.

The research showing the benefits of vaccinations comes as other research shows the long-term effects that COVID can have on kidney function. Credit:Justin McManus

But even people with less severe initial infections could be vulnerable.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors have observed that people who become very ill with COVID-19 often experience kidney problems, not just the lung impairments that are the hallmark of the illness.

“You see really, across the board, a higher risk of a bunch of important kidney-associated events,” said Dr. F. Perry Wilson, a nephrologist and associate professor of medicine at Yale, who was not involved in the study. “And what was particularly striking to me was that these persisted.”

Kidneys play a vital role in the body, clearing toxins and excess fluid from the blood, helping maintain a healthy blood pressure, and keeping a balance of electrolytes and other important substances.

The new study, based on records of patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, analysed data from 89,216 people who tested positive for the coronavirus between March 1, 2020, and March 15, 2021, as well as data from 1,637,467 people who were not COVID patients.

Between one and six months after becoming infected, COVID survivors were about 35 per cent more likely than non-COVID patients to have kidney damage or substantial declines in kidney function, said Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of the research and development service at the VA St. Louis Health Care System and senior author of the study.

Because many people with reduced kidney function do not experience pain or other symptoms, “what’s really important is that people realise that the risk is there and that physicians caring for post-COVID patients really pay attention to kidney function and disease,” he said.

The two sets of patients in the study differed, in that members of one group had all been infected with COVID and members of the other group may have had a variety of other health conditions. Experts cautioned that there were limitations to the comparisons.

The New York Times

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