Long Covid and the vaccines: do they give us any protection?

I come bearing a shred of good news about long Covid. Or at least it’ll look good to you if, like me, you worry about the prospect of long Covid. This comes from two doctors, Sarah Ryan and Lawrence Purpura, who’ve worked extensively with it. I’ll skip the details on their experience–just follow the link if you’re interested. It’s shortcut week here at Notes. In fact, the shortcuts are so short that I’m going to quote them interchangeably. They’ll never know–and if they do I’ll take no shortcuts in apologizing.

They say the long Covid cases they’re seeing have been less severe than the ones they used to see. They attribute that first to the omicron variants attacking the upper respiratory system, where they don’t cause as many of the heavy duty symptoms–lung complications, increased heart rate, lightheadedness, and chronic fatigue–and second to the vaccines being somewhat protective against long Covid. 

No, the vaccines don’t protect us completely, but “studies show that even one dose of a COVID vaccine reduces the odds of developing long COVID by seven to 10 times.”

Break out the ice cream so we can celebrate, will you? Or at least an M&M.

Irrelevant photo: Fields after a December frost.

Who’s most at risk? An article in Cell “identified four factors that correlate with greater risk of long Covid—type 2 diabetes, prior infection with Epstein-Barr virus, level of Sars-CoV-2 RNA detected in the blood, and the presence of autoantibodies.”

A different study sees being female as an increased risk. That same study saw people’s risk decrease by 30% if they’d have two doses of vaccine.

How likely are people with Covid to get long Covid? No one has a good answer to that. There’s no one definition of long Covid, which makes it next to impossible–or maybe that’s completely impossible–to compile statistics. 

Still, they estimate that something like 1% to 5% of Covid patients will go on to get moderate to severe long Covid. At twelve weeks, around 25% of them report fatigue, 25% report insomnia, 20% report increased heart rate or dizziness, and 15% report neurocognitive deficits–things like short-term memory problems. Some of those symptoms will be very mild to some disabling.

A different study came up with 1% of people who had Covid but weren’t hospitalized coming down with long Covid, 6% of people who were hospitalized, and 32% of people who ended up in intensive care units.

Many people will have what Ryan and Purpura call “profound recovery” in three to six months; 10% will have symptoms that go on for more than a year. An even smaller percentage will still have symptoms after a year and a half. 

So the news is far from an all-clear, but in a bad-news situation, this is good news.

 

Other long Covid news 

I’ve been stacking up articles on long Covid but never seem to get back to them. But here we are in shortcut week, so let’s do a few quick summaries and then run:

  • Covid’s associated with increased liver stiffness–a possible sign of liver injury–months after infection. Note the hesitancy in there: associated with; a possible sign. Nothing definite, just something worth looking into more.
  • Covid can affect the brain profoundly even months after infection.
  • A different study, from the early stages of the pandemic (I hope that’s significant), linked Covid to impaired reasoning, speed of thinking, and verbal abilities, comparing what they saw to the effects of sleep deprivation. The severity of the symptoms matched the severity of the infection.
  • A small study found Covid can damage the DNA in cardiac tissue. Compared to the 2009 flu, “Covid has led to more severe and long-term cardiovascular disease.”
  • Covid’s associated with increased chances of long-term brain problems, including strokes, cognitive and memory problems, depression, anxiety, and migraines. And if that doesn’t make you anxious, tremors, involuntary muscle contractions, epileptic seizures, brain fog, hearing and vision abnormalities, and balance and coordination problems–basically symptoms like the ones that come with Parkinson’s. Vaccines reduce the chances of having any of this joy land in your life by about 20%. Keep in mind, though, that a group of people who’ve had Covid are more likely to face these problems than a group that hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean all of them will.
  • Covid was associated with an increased chance of stroke and heart attack. If the study’s correct, over the course of a year, for every 1,000 people who had Covid, you’d expect to find five extra strokes, three extra heart attacks, and twelve extra cases of heart failure 

Those last two studies show a pattern but don’t show cause and effect so let’s not go off the deep end with them. 

 

Is Covid no worse than the flu?

The claim that Covid’s just like the flu translates to “Don’t get hysterical.” So an article from Australia has given us a comparison of the two. 

Between the beginning of 2022 and August 28, Australia had 44 times as many Covid cases as flu cases and 42 times as many Covid deaths. 

That makes the death rate from Covid lower, right? It looks that way to this number-phobe, but it also misses the point. The absolute numbers are higher. If you find yourself in the group of people who died, you’re not going to be consoled by the percentages. 

Okay, strictly speaking, if you find yourself in that group you’ll be dead and unlikely to care anymore, but still, you see my point: Some 1,700 people were hospitalized with the flu between the start of the year and some date in September–pick a number, any number, because here at Notes we don’t really care. Compare that to a single day in July 2022 when 5,429 people were hospitalized with Covid.

 

Life expectancy

I kind of ditched our good news theme there, didn’t I? Sorry. I had some, I spent it all in one place, and now it’s gone. To hell with it, let’s do more bad news. It’s cheaper.

The Covid pandemic lowered life expectancy worldwide. Or at least in the 29 countries included in one study. That leaves out a bunch, but close enough for our purposes.

Predictably, the losses aren’t evenly distributed. Countries with the most effective responses bounced back to pre-pandemic levels relatively quickly. Countries where the response was less effective may have what the study calls “a protracted health crisis.”

It’s another piece in the argument that Covid’s not just the flu in fancy clothes. Flu in the second half of the twentieth century caused smaller, less widespread drops in life expectancy. 

 

The new variant on the block

The new variant that’s emerged in China is BF.7, which is short for something more complicated, which we don’t need to bother with. It’s more infectious than earlier variants, has a shorter incubation time, and is better at infecting people who’ve already had Covid. The symptoms aren’t that different than we’re used to: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and fatigue, but some people end up with vomiting and diarrhoea.

It’s been found in several countries other than China but doesn’t seem to be spreading as quickly in them, although (as I write this, in mid-December) it’s not clear why.

30 thoughts on “Long Covid and the vaccines: do they give us any protection?

  1. I’m hearing of the new Omicron variant on our eastern side of the USA, although not sure if it’s the one you mention or our own special mutation. I was remembering life events the other day and in popped just how long we’ve been talking about and living with Covid so when you mention the comparisons between the flu and this crap Ellen I can see a picture historically of the terror people experienced with things like the plague and influenza. I want to remember these moments in time and if I’m still here in 30 years be the elderly lady in her wheelchair telling stories about the Covid times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the thought that these are times we’ll tell tales about later. I find that the pandemic’s becoming so normalized that I have to remind myself how new these times are to us, even if they’re not new to history.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some of the neighbors have kids who have never known school years without Covid

    Deb made a good point about knowing the terror of plague or “Spanish”. flu. At least we have the luxury of knowing what causes it, even though we still can’t do as much about it as we wish.
    There are starting to be measles outbreaks Over Here because people have been anti-vaxxers where MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) shots are concerned. Despite all the drugs available now, measles can cause a lot of nasty complications. (It was measles that caused many deaths in the Civil War camps because the recruits had all been isolated country boys never exposed to each other’s germs.

    Thanks for your diligence in providing this info. I read the papers, but I start skimming after a couple of paragraphs. I read yours all the way through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s high praise. Thank you. And thanks also for the info about measles during the Civil War. I hadn’t heard that.

      I was just reading about the possibility of vaccines that could–if they pan out–both prevent and treat cancer and couldn’t help wondering if the anti-vaxxers would oppose them as well. Somehow I think not.

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      • Well…I’m not an anti-vaxxer. If bitten by an unknown animal I’d run into town screaming for rabies vaccines. Rabies vaccine has been around for a while and is known to have a very high benefit-to-risk ratio.

        I think I’ll give the cancer vaccines another thirty years. Let others be the guinea pigs.

        I *would* be anti-mandates, though, for any vaccine. Even rabies.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m of two minds on mandates, but let me argue the side that’s in favor: If a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated against a disease, that can protect people who can’t be vaccinated because of allergies or vulnerabilities. Vaccines were quietly mandatory when I was a kid: no vaccinations, you couldn’t go to school, which pretty much settled things. The world was close to eradicating polio (I don’t know what’s happened with that since the pandemic), and doing it depended on getting people vaccinated. It’s also the way smallpox was eradicated. No all vaccines are effective enough to do that, so that’s not a universal argument, and I’d much rather see people convinced than forced, but there are arguments in favor of mandates.

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          • The herd immunity theory is nice but I don’t believe it works in real life. Two complications:

            1. Airborne virus can lurk anywhere and survive longest on a warm body, even if that body is immune to the virus. The vaccinated and/or naturally resistant become immune carriers. We are then likely to dump lower loads of virus on the immune-compromised, but also, because less avoided by them, more likely to carry virus or bacteria into their range. Typhoid Mary killed hundreds of people before having any idea she was infected.

            2. The Americas enjoyed full herd immunity to several European and African diseases up to the 1490s. That is why they are now predominantly inhabited by people of European and/or African descent. And these days any attempt at a useful consideration of why some indigenous nations have lived and thrived (e.g. the Cherokee) or at least survived (e.g. the Dakota) while others went extinct is apt to be mistaken for bigotry, however academic it is…but in historical fact, the most xenophobic, thus germ-avoidant, groups seem to have been wiped out fastest. Almost all living indigenous Americans are descendants of risk-takers who intermarried with the infected foreigners and thus, like Pocahontas, bred some resistant genes back into their bloodlines. Full herd immunity can easily become disastrous.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’d question your account of the devastation of the Native American tribes–too many factors were at play, including land loss,, forced evacuations, slaughter, and the destruction of their way of living–but I don’t have the time for the research I’d need to put together a detailed argument. What I have done some reading on is the survival of the virus, which turns out not to survive as long on surfaces as was initially believed. It’s not impossible to catch Covid from surfaces, but it’s highly unlikely. Airborne transmission is the worry, and that comes only from infected people. With the current vaccines, vaccinated people can be infected and both symptomatic and asymptomatic people can transmit it. The same is true for people with naturally acquired immunity. If sterilizing vaccines are developed–and several are in the works–then vaccinated people will not be transmitting it. That’s an if, though, not a guaranteed development. At the moment, no one is an immune carrier. The virus doesn’t replicate in people who are immune. They can’t shed what isn’t replicating.

              It’s possible that nasal irrigation would allow us to shed less virus on other people, but I haven’t read that about either the vaccinated or people with naturally acquired immunity.

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              • Yes, the war cost many lives, but diseases to which the whole continent had lost resistance cost more.

                I know there is a difference between “immune” and “asymptomatic,” but when people don’t feel symptoms it’s hard to convince them that there’s any need to take any precautions of any kind. Consider HPV.

                I’d imagine that nasal irrigation would be a harder sell than a one-time vaccine, even though the risks of the existing COVID vaccines have turned out to be high.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Any vaccine carries some risk, including the widely accepted and successful polio vaccine. To be justified, they have to carry less risk than the diseases they aim to control. Everything I’ve seen says the Covid vaccines fit that description.

                I do agree about how hard it is to convince people to take precautions if they’re asymptomatic, and I agree that nasal irrigation would be a hard sell in the US and Europe. We’ll see if a one-time vaccine does come along. I think you’re right that people would have an easier time accepting it, although yearly flu vaccines don’t seem to set people’s hair on fire.

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  3. And in California: “Dec. 30, the C.D.C. said that XBB.1.5 made up 40.5 percent of cases and had edged out the other subvariants (like BA.5, BF.7, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, among others) that are currently responsible for the rest of the cases in the U.S.”

    I keep my mask on inside stores and in other crowded situations.

    Liked by 1 person

      • At this point, my guess would be that most of them/us have had the virus, whether they noticed it or not, and already enjoy natural immunity.

        I’ve had coronavirus two times, possibly three. I recognized the distinctive feeling of a virus trying to attack the heart and lungs rather than the sinuses. But trying was all it did. I did the quarantine as a matter of public spirit, but I’ve bought shoes that were more painful.

        Of two influential families in my town, I think mine took the rational-skeptical position. Another family took the stubborn-skeptical position. “Yah, we’ve all had a LITTLE COUGH and felt TIRED, but I can’t believe THAT was the famous coronavirus pandemic! It wasn’t even a COLD!” It was coronavirus all right. They were the spreaders.

        But the multi-vaxxed, or vaxxed-after-infection, are very often reported to be the sickest when they’re exposed to a new mutant…I’m sorry. I’ll do the quarantine again if I’m exposed again, I have no problem with social distancing and I don’t mind wearing a mask if others are worried, but I’m not going to risk a fatal heart attack in the name of protection from something that is going to make me cough in a peculiar way three times before my immune system destroys it.

        Most people show reactions to glyphosate, whether they recognize those reactions or not. Though hardly two reactions are alike, most of those reactions are more serious than the reactions most people have to coronavirus. I’m not here to hijack an excellent blog post, but I think it’s time everyone thought about what’s actually making us ill.

        Liked by 1 person

        • In many countries–maybe in all–the people most likely to be vaccinated are the most vulnerable, so any statistics on how ill people get when they do get Covid would have to factor that in. The studies I’ve seen say that the people most likely to be hit hardest by Covid are unvaccinated.

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          • That’s a good point. The people who’ve released videos of themselves collapsing after vaccine *were* either the ones with most to fear from the virus, or else the ones taking the jab under pressure from employers. They may have already had the virus. They might have been sicker if not vaccinated. There are still a lot of variables. Mandates are what cause people to start howling that the @#$% useless vaccine KIIILLLED THEIR LOVED ONE and NO COMPENSATION WILL EVER BE ENOUGH and so on.

            My Significant Other of sixteen years? Nobody told him he *had to* have the vaccine. His children were worried about side effects. (His family do have peculiar DNA–legally Cherokee but they suspect some connection to the extinct “giant” Susquehannocks.) He wanted to be one of the first to have the vaccine to show people it was safe. So from May to November of 2021 he felt good, and people had the vaccine, though Heaven knows that the fact that he survived landmines and a broken spine and open-heart surgery don’t recommend *those* things to normal humans. Then toward the end of November 2021 he said “I’ll call you after this operation for this tumor.” He never even said where the tumor was; it was the fear in his voice that made me think “brain.” And at the beginning of December 2022 his faithful foster son, the care giver because big enough to lift the patient, called to say that he’d had his phone all year but apparently never felt confident enough to start calling people; anyway he’d died.

            Did the vaccine do it? Who knows? He was over 70 years old. His survivorship was a legend and a tourist attraction. He’d had Lyme Disease, treated too late and chronic, for the last twelve years. There are too many variables. But the big tough men in his family usually live past age 90. The ones who aren’t big tough men often die young.

            It’s not easy even reporting these things. You’ve picked a tough topic and written about it very well. I’ve not felt like writing or reading anything *else* about COVID since December–but I respect your sticking with it.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, and I appreciate that we’ve been able to discuss this without tearing into each other. I also appreciate your saying that you can’t know why he died. Whatever the reason was, I’m sorry you’ve lost someone so close to you. I know the weight of your loss must be heavy.

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  4. Please don’t get me started. I am just thankful the US government is supposed to now take long Cvd seriously and enact legislation that’s sensitive to long-term sufferers struggling in their job. Wishing you health and happiness in 2023, EH! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, and much of the same back to you. I hadn’t heard that about the US. Let’s hope they can get the legislation past the clown show that is now the House of Representatives. It could be really important.

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  5. Thank you for this excellent round-up. I rarely read the news these days as it’s so hard to find any outlets that don’t have their own agenda. Not that there’s a lot of good news in this, but I’ll take any that’s going. My daughter & her family who live in London have now had Covid 4-5 times each. My grandson who’s yet to have his 2nd birthday, has had it 3 times (unless you can say he also had it inter-utero shortly before his birth). I try not to worry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m horrified at the number of people who catch Covid multiple times and the general attitude that that’s all okay. I’m not talking, really, about individual attitudes. They matter, but it’s the general one that keeps us, as a society, from taking the precautions we could take without the world grinding to a halt.I’m thinking about masks, ventilation, distance. Imperfect solutions but better than whistling in the dark.

      Liked by 1 person

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