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The Vaccine May Cure Long COVID, But Experts Aren't Sure

Two COVID experts weigh in.

Long haulers, or those who are suffering from Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC), the long form of COVID-19, are people who experience symptoms as a result of an infection for several months after the virus has passed. Many of them find little to no relief in terms of managing or treating their symptoms, and as a result, are suffering various physical and mental repercussions. However, according to some long haulers as well as doctors who treat them, a percentage of them are reporting that their symptoms are starting to lessen or even go away completely after they get the COVID-19 vaccine. But is this even possible? Read on to find out what our experts said—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

Dozens are Saying the Vaccine Helped Their Long COVID Symptoms

"I started getting texts and calls from some of my colleagues saying hey, are your patients with long COVID reporting that they're feeling better after the vaccine?" Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases clinician and researcher at Columbia University, told The Verge, adding that his patients started confirming it to him. "It's not 100 percent, but it does seem like to be around a third," he says.

Additionally, dozens of people who responded to a poll in the Facebook group for Survivor Corps claimed that their symptoms improved slightly or were nearly eliminated altogether. "We were really concerned that people were going to have a bad reaction. It never occurred to us that they would actually improve," Diana Berrent, founder of the COVID-19 survivors and long-haulers group Survivor Corps, told the publication. 

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It's Still "Way Too Soon" to Know, Says Yale Doctor

While this could be welcoming news for the long hauler community, F. Perry Wilson, MD, Yale Medicine physician and researcher at Yale School of Medicine who runs a Coursera course, tells Eat This, Not That! Health that it is still "way too soon to know whether vaccination will improve symptoms among people with Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2  (PASC), often known as 'long covid.'" 

"We've seen a number of anecdotes on social media and from docs who treat long haulers but it's hard to understand exactly how this would work," he explains. He also points out that most studies of long covid so far have not demonstrated that patients are still infected with the virus, "rather the symptoms seem to come from damage the virus did during the initial infection," he says. "If there is no active infection, it's not clear why the vaccine would lead to such dramatic effects." 

However, it could be possible that some patients have "ongoing carriage of the virus, in which case the vaccine could teach their immune systems to kick it out for good, but it does not seem like this is the case for most of the long covid patients," he says. 

And, there's also a flip-side of this story, per Dr. Wilson. "Some researchers have expressed concern that vaccination could worsen long-covid symptoms by ramping up the inflammatory response again. Fortunately, this idea hasn't been borne out in rigorous studies either."  

He does note that the concept of the vaccine serving as a treatment for long COVID remains an "intriguing hypothesis" that can be easily tested. "The NIH is setting up a really robust PASC research consortium and enrolling some long-hauler patients in a randomized trial of vaccine versus placebo should quickly give us the data we need to answer this important question," he reveals. 

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There is a Clear Benefit to Getting the Vaccine—For Everyone, Says Doctor

Like Dr. Wilson, Darren Mareiniss, MD, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College – Thomas Jefferson University and expert in pandemic preparedness, confirms that the relationship between long haulers and the vaccine is "not clear." However, he points out that it should serve as just another reason everyone should get vaccinated. "This includes people with long hauler symptoms. It's important to protect these patients from future infections and to protect our community," he says. "There is a clear benefit to getting vaccinated and everyone should receive the vaccine as soon as they are able. Vaccination is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 infections, hospitalization and death. Ostensibly, it would also protect you from the chronic sequelae of infection, such as long hauler symptoms."

So follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—wear a face mask that fits snugly and is double layered, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah