Coronavirus vaccines offer protection not only against infection and serious illness but may also help prevent so-called “Long COVID,” where symptoms can last for several weeks or months, according to new research from scientists at Kings College London.
There are no official figures, but it’s thought millions of people worldwide who contracted the coronavirus have suffered from so-called “Long COVID,” with reported symptoms including muscle pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog lasting longer than four weeks.
The condition remains poorly understood, says British campaigner Ondine Sherwood, who founded the ‘Long Covid SOS’ campaign group after suffering from the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Amongst medical practitioners, there is a bit of variation in terms of recognition. I think people are still getting told that it’s due to anxiety. Some doctors don’t fully understand this condition,” Sherwood told VOA.
“It is a case of treating symptoms. Research is ongoing as to the mechanisms of Long COVID and it’s not fully understood. There are quite a lot of theories, many of which have been backed up with research. But we haven’t reached the stage where we have targeted treatments,” Sherwood added.
The research from Kings College London suggests that coronavirus vaccines halve the risk of suffering from long COVID, for the very low number of people who become infected after vaccination.
The scientists based their research on Britain’s “Zoe” COVID study app, which tracked the self-reported symptoms of 1.2 million people between December 2020 and July of this year.
Zero-point-two percent of vaccinated respondents reported being infected with the coronavirus. Of those, 5% reported suffering from long COVID, compared to 11% of unvaccinated people.
“So, the vaccine will protect you from becoming ill from the virus. It will also protect you if you do get symptoms from becoming long-term ill from this virus,” said Sterghios Moschos, a virologist at the University of Northumbria, who was not involved in the research.
“This means that if you get exposed to the virus and you’ve been vaccinated, the vast chances are that you are not even going to be able to tell if you’ve been infected. That’s how good the vaccines are,” he added.
The findings will fuel the debate over whether to offer vaccines to children, as schools start to reopen. Another recent study in Britain found that one in seven children suffers from Long COVID three months after infection, with headaches and fatigue listed as the most common symptoms.
Britain has yet to approve vaccines for healthy children. In the meantime, measures such as improved ventilation, social distancing and face masks should continue, argues Moschos. “We need to continue preventing transmission. We must not rely only on vaccines,” he told VOA.
Several countries, including the United States, have already begun vaccination programs for those 12 and older.