Amidst the excitement of lockdown lifting and the hype around the UK’s vaccination uptake, there lurks a slow-burning threat - long-COVID.
The condition is characterised as a person continuing to develop or display signs and symptoms of a COVID-19 infection from four weeks after the initial infection. Long-COVID can see sufferers experiencing coronavirus symptoms for months after infection, significantly affecting their ability to conduct day to day tasks.
Last month, the Guardian reported that over two million people in the UK had been struck with long-COVID with symptoms lasting around 12 weeks, and the cases are expected to increase further over the summer.
Currently, no drug treatments are available for those suffering from chronic fatigue, brain fog and respiratory problems that Long-COVID sufferers face. Still, solutions are now being explored by UK researchers who believe a monthly COVID vaccine may keep Long-COVID at bay.
Long-COVID trial to see patients receive extra coronavirus jabs
The first stage of a new long-COVID study was given the green light on Friday; later this year, 40 long-COVID patients will be offered at least two extra doses of COVID vaccines.
Dr David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, set to lead the trial, revealed toThe Mail on Sunday that coronavirus vaccine manufacturers who are funding the study became interested after reports showed the symptoms of long-COVID were reduced after receiving a jab.
In an earlier study, we saw this lasted for about a month after the first dose, but then symptoms return.
Dr Strain continued to explain that when long-COVID patients went on to get their second jab, they experienced the same effect; their symptoms were once again temporarily eased.
The same pattern was seen when people went for their second jab. We want to find out whether, over time, offering regular doses can make this change permanent.
If the first stages of the trial are successful, scientists have been granted permission to extend the study to include thousands more people.
The study also marks the first time COVID vaccines will be used for any purpose other than protecting against the virus. During a time when vaccine supplies are scarce in many less fortunate countries, the study also calls morality into question.
However, Dr Strain explained that vaccines wouldn’t be taken out of circulation and instead ‘outdated versions’ will be used.
Right now, all the manufacturers are designing their second-generation vaccine. These will be designed to combat the Delta [Indian] variant, as well as the South Africa variant, which many worry is highly resistant to current jabs.
He continued: ‘Once new vaccines have been created, there'll be no need for the original vaccines, which were designed with the initial COVID variant in mind. These will be the vaccines we use in the trials.’
Vaccines temporarily ease long-COVID
A study released back in January found that COVID vaccines, particularly those of the mRNA variety, eased long-COVID symptoms if not temporarily.
The survey, conducted by advocacy group LongCOVIDSOS, involved a total of 812 long-COVID sufferers and found that 56.7% of participants felt their symptoms improve after inoculation. A further 24.6& of subjects experienced no changes in symptoms, while a final 18.7% of participants felt their symptoms had deteriorated after becoming vaccinated.
The survey concluded that mRNA vaccines provided the most benefit to long-COVID patients compared to those who received an adenovirus vaccine such as AstraZeneca. Overall, the Moderna vaccine was most likely to see an improvement in symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle pain. Patients were also least likely to report feelings of deterioration with Moderna compared to other jabs.
The survey alone isn’t enough evidence to conclusively say that vaccines could ease or even cure long-COVID, but Dr Strain’s new trials will soon bring more answers.
It’s also unclear why some people recover fully from the virus, while others are left to struggle with COVID for months. Immunologist Dr Akiko Iwasaki of Yale University believes there could be two reasons behind the phenomenon. The first being that pockets of the virus may persist in the body post-infection, and the second that the immune system could be overreacting and attacking the body’s healthy tissue.