As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, people who’ve experienced coronavirus symptoms for months want to know what happens when sufferers of long COVID actually get the vaccine.
The answer is good news. Early data shows COVID long-haulers see improved symptoms after getting inoculated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a small percentage of COVID-19 patients have not fully recovered from the virus even months after infection. This includes patients who suffered the mildest of symptoms.
The most commonly reported long-term symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, and chest pain, according to the CDC. Some long-haulers also experience difficulty with thinking and concentration, depression, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever, and heart palpitations.
The CDC states that the most severe long COVID cases also involve a prolonged loss of taste or smell, acute kidney injury, lung function abnormalities, inflammation of the heart muscle, and memory problems.
According to the Verge, when vaccines were first approved, some health experts worried they could worsen long-haulers’ symptoms by triggering the immune system. Fortunately, these concerns have not yet come to fruition.
Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases clinician and researcher at Columbia University, told the Verge long-hauler patients reported that their symptoms improved after getting the vaccine.
“For some of them it was short-lived,” Griffin said. “But for a chunk, it actually persisted—they went ahead, got their second shot out, and are saying, wow, they really feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, told the Verge that improvements experienced by long COVID sufferers could be due to the vaccine’s removal of remnants of the virus that have been wreaking havoc on the immune system.
“Potentially, those remnants are removed because you’re generating a lot of antibodies,” Iwasaki said. Another possible explanation, according to Iwasaki, is that the vaccine gives a jolt to the immune system, turning on healthy cells and tissues.
For now, the data collection process is still in its early stages. Health experts cannot say for sure that it’s the vaccine improving symptoms, even if early signs point to hope for COVID-19 long-haulers.
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