Daniel Griffin wasn’t sure what to expect when his patients with chronic COVID-19 symptoms started getting vaccinated. There was some concern that the shooting might make things worse. activating the immune system. Fortunately, the opposite seemed to be true.
“I started getting text messages and calls from some of my colleagues saying hey, do your long-term COVID patients report feeling better after the vaccine?” says Griffin, a physician and infectious disease researcher at Columbia University. When he started talking to patients, he saw that they were. “It’s not 100 percent, but it seems to be about a third,” he says.
Early reports from Griffin and others hint that people with persistent symptoms may improve after getting vaccinated. The information is still limited and the data is largely anecdotal, but if the pattern holds, it could help researchers better understand why COVID-19 symptoms persist in some people and offer a path to relief.
Many of Griffin’s patients who improved had significant side effects after their first injection of the Moderna or Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. That is common in people who have had COVID-19 before; they already have some level of antibodies, so the first injection acts more like a second boost. Later, his patients with chronic symptoms began to report that their sense of smell was improving or that they weren’t as fatigued. “For some of them it was short-lived. But for a while, it actually persisted – they kept going, they fired a second time and they said, wow, they really feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, ”says Griffin.
Several people who contract COVID-19 experience symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or loss of smell, months after their initial illness. For some, those symptoms are debilitating. Many people who fell ill during the first wave of the pandemic a year ago have not yet fully recovered. Doctors like Griffin are learning more about what is called “long COVID,” but the answers are still limited. Any hint of a path to relief “would be nothing short of a miracle,” says Diana Berrent, founder of the Survivor Corps group of COVID-19 survivors and carriers.
Some patient surveys are trying to get an early reading on how widespread the improvement is. Director Gez Medinger, who covers a lot of COVID on his YouTube channel, surveyed nearly 500 people in various long-distance carrier support groups on Facebook. About a third of the people surveyed said they felt mildly or completely better when vaccination was at least two weeks away.
Dozens of people who responded to a survey on the Survivor Corps Facebook group said their symptoms improved slightly or almost completely disappeared. “We were very concerned that people would have a bad reaction. It never occurred to us that they would really improve, ”says Berrent. Another group of survivors, Patient-Led Research, is also surveying people with long-term COVID who have been vaccinated.
There are limitations to these types of surveys: they are small and limited to people seeking out and participating in support groups. They cannot prove that it was the vaccine that produced an improvement in symptoms. But they can guide researchers to helpful research questions.
There are plausible biological reasons why vaccination could help people with long-term COVID, says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University. Scientists still don’t know for sure why some people have chronic symptoms, but one theory is that the virus or pieces of the virus stay in their body. They are not contagious, but leftovers continue to irritate the immune system. Vaccination could eliminate them. “Potentially, those debris are removed because you are generating a lot of antibodies,” Iwasaki said. The edge.
Another theory is that, for some people, COVID-19 triggers lasting changes in the immune system and could activate healthy cells and tissues. In that case, the vaccine could help by shaking up the immune system. “It can restore some of those existing responses,” says Iwasaki. In that case, the improvement in symptoms would likely be short-lived and would only last as long as the effect of the vaccine.
There is much more to learn about the relationship between long-term COVID and vaccines. Increasingly rigorous survey data will be needed to understand exactly what part of people feel better after being vaccinated. There are ongoing studies that monitor certain inflammatory proteins in the blood of people with chronic symptoms, and researchers could compare the levels in people who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, Griffin says.
Research should also verify whether one type of vaccine is more effective in reducing chronic symptoms than the others. Although Moderna, Pfizer / BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work just as well to prevent serious infections, they can vary in how they can help people with long-term COVID. “Once we know that, we can recommend people with COVID to get different vaccines,” says Iwasaki.
That information would also help clarify the reasons why people have chronic symptoms. If a significant number of people have long-term improvement after getting vaccinated, Iwasaki says he would lean toward the viral remnant theory. “So once you get rid of the virus, that’s it, you no longer suffer from this.” However, he points out that everyone has different experiences with the disease. “It is not a one size fits all.”
Berrent still thinks it’s too early to say for sure how much vaccines can help people with long-term COVID. “I think this is all very interesting,” he says. “I feel like we are still collecting data here.” However, it is encouraging to see that they are not having bad reactions to the vaccine, and any minor improvement is exciting.
The first reports are a good boost for people with chronic COVID-19 symptoms to get vaccinated, Griffin says. “It doesn’t seem harmful and it can be therapeutic. I think it is encouraging that people with a prolonged COVID are registering as soon as possible. “