Although the WHO released its first clinical definition of Long Covid in October of 2021, there is still no definitive agreement on what it is or how to officially diagnose it–a common pain point for clinicians, patients and insurers alike. The majority of scientific literature cites the CDC’s definition, often describing a syndrome with persisting symptoms at least 4 weeks following a Covid-19 diagnosis.
According to recent studies conducted in the UK, 7%-18% of those who contracted Covid-19 reported lingering symptoms for at least 5 weeks. Some studies also show that the more severe the initial Covid-19 case, the higher the risk of developing Long Covid. While some of the persisting symptoms can be mild, others can be extremely debilitating leading patients to request special work accommodations. Indeed, the ADA has ruled that Long Covid can be a disability.
Vaccination has become a useful tool in tackling the virus, with research proving its effectiveness against infection, hospitalization and death following a Covid-19 infection. However, the research is less clear as to whether vaccination can prevent Long Covid or provide symptomatic relief after the initial infection.
Vaccination post-infection: a relief in symptoms for long-haulers?
Emerging research has shown that vaccination may be effective in improving Long Covid symptoms. In other words, some long-haulers report seeing a relief in their symptoms after receiving a Covid-19 shot. The Long Covid initiative team reviewed recent articles and publications on the topic of Long Covid and vaccinations and found the below, sometimes contradictory, highlights:
How might the vaccine help long-haulers?
If there is a beneficial link between vaccination and the relief of Long Covid symptoms, researchers still cannot explain why, from a physiological point of view, that might be the case. Perhaps the vaccine helps the immune system resist residual virus or dampens potentially harmful immune responses?
What is the takeaway?
Two years into the pandemic and a year since the start of the vaccine roll-out, it is evident that vaccines help prevent people from developing severe Covid-19 and dying from the virus. Vaccines prevent hospitalizations (73% less likely to be hospitalized) and lower acute symptoms (31% less likely). Protecting people from contracting Acute Covid-19 will subsequently keep them from developing Long Covid.
However, when a breakthrough infection does occur–i.e. when a fully vaccinated individual becomes infected with Covid-19–vaccination may significantly decrease the risk of developing Long Covid, but may also have no effect on it at all. The general takeaway from available research is that a large number of Long Covid patients report an improvement in their symptoms but the relationship between vaccination and Long Covid prevention remains unclear.