A new warning is out for people walking around maskless and vaccinated, feeling invincible against COVID-19. While vaccines are good at preventing hospitalization and death, they may not shield you from developing long COVID. That’s according to new research from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency looked at records of nearly 34,000 people who had breakthrough infections after being vaccinated (but not boosted), as well as unvaccinated people.
“[For] some people, long COVID can leave them with new onset diabetes, new onset high blood pressure, new onset kidney disease or heart disease. And these manifestations of long COVID are chronic conditions that will last … for a lifetime,” says Ziyad Al-Aly, lead author of the study and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University.
The study shows no difference in symptoms among vaccinated and unvaccinated people who got COVID, he notes, and inoculation shots provide a 15% risk reduction for long COVID.
Different studies show that 5-20% of infected people develop long COVID, he adds.
“This is a national crisis that's evolving in slow motion. And this is going to be the pandemic after the pandemic.”
The U.S. health care system is not optimally prepared to handle long COVID, since it’s been exhausted and overwhelmed by dealing with acute COVID, Al-Aly says.
People can protect themselves in the first place by wearing masks and reducing time in places where a lot of viruses could be around, he advises.
“The other way to do it is us as a society, as a medical system, we really need to be … thinking about additional therapeutics, perhaps in newer forms of vaccines that are designed specifically with long COVID in mind. That's one. Or two, therapeutics like antivirals … that could also be used in the acute phase that may mitigate or reduce the risk of long COVID.”
Meanwhile, cases are rising, but it’s difficult to fully capture the community positivity rate as home tests are available.
“Public health needs to be … figuring out … how can we as a society … monitor infection over time? What tools are available to us that we could deploy to really enhance our ability to not be in the dark?”