My Patients Ask — If I don’t get the COVID vaccine, do I need to worry about becoming a “long-hauler”?

One of the concerns for those considering not taking the COVID vaccine is that even with mild COVID disease the risk of having prolonged, ongoing symptoms is significant. Cohort studies of COVID survivors have reported that up to half of the hospitalized patients and one-third of outpatients experience persisting COVID-like symptoms. Now we have new research on how much of a risk this is.

Now called “post-acute COVID-19 syndrome” (PACS), “long COVID,” or “post-COVID syndrome,” many of these patients and the popular media are calling themselves  “long-haulers.”

An analysis of 45 studies involving more than 9,700 patients recovering from COVID found that 72.5% reported experiencing at least one of 84 COVID-19 symptoms or clinical signs such as fatigue or shortness of breath at least 60 days after diagnosis or at least 30 days after hospital discharge.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that fatigue was most common, followed by shortness of breath, kidney damage, sleep disorders, and difficulty with concentration (or “brain fog”).

Worse yet, many of these patients “during the first months of the pandemic experienced ‘significant functional decline’ upon returning home that required medical equipment such as canes, wheelchairs or shower seats, outpatient therapy, caregiver assistance, and diet changes.”

According to Health Notes:

Treatment of post-acute COVID-19 syndrome is largely empirical since there is little data to inform management at this time. It is not clear whether COVID-directed therapies may be effective, and patients may gradually recover with symptomatic treatment alone.

Comorbidities should be managed accordingly, and referrals should be made to appropriate specialists such as respiratory, cardiology, or neurology for concerning or escalating manifestations.

Popular media have reported resolution of lingering post-acute COVID-19 symptoms in some people after receiving their COVID-19 vaccination, but it is unclear if vaccination will be effective against the syndrome in all patients.

With more than 136 million people having contracted COVID-19 to date, post-acute COVID-19 syndrome is likely to be a major issue over the coming year(s).

Patient registries and longitudinal studies should start to provide insights into causes, risk factors, and therapies. The establishment of multidisciplinary post-COVID care centers will be needed to help patients to navigate beyond their acute care needs.

The great news is that this risk is almost completely eliminated by the COVID vaccine. In point of fact, avoiding PACS may become one of the leading arguments for taking the COVID vaccine

This blog was accurate as of the day of posting. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus and the COVID vaccine develops, the information above may have changed since it was last updated. While I aim to keep all of my blogs on COVID and the COVID vaccine up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2021. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.


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