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Can Drugs Reduce the Risk of Long COVID? What Scientists Know So Far

0 2 years ago

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, urologist and clinical epidemiologist Kari Tikkinen found his schedule full of cancelled surgeries, so he had some time to kill. “Do whatever you feel is most useful,” his boss at the University of Helsinki advised him. So Tikkinen threw himself into running clinical trials for COVID-19 therapies.

From the start—before the world learnt of long COVID—Tikkinen saw a need to follow study participants for months after their recovery. He wanted to monitor long-term side effects of the medicines. “Very soon, it became clear: it’s not only about safety,” he says.

Now, Tikkinen and a handful of others are hoping to learn more about whether treatments given during the acute phase of COVID-19 can reduce the risk of experiencing symptoms months later. “It’s an urgent and pressing health need that people need to start focusing on,” says intensive-care specialist Charlotte Summers, at the University of Cambridge, UK.

DEBILITATING SYMPTOMS

Research into long COVID—which is also known as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, and is usually defined as COVID-19 symptoms that last longer than three months—has lagged behind studies of the acute phase of infection. People who experience long COVID live with a wide array of symptoms, ranging from mild to severely debilitating. Researchers have proposed a variety of causes for the condition—from lingering viral reservoirs, to autoimmunity, to tiny blood clots. Many think that a mix of these factors is to blame. “It took a while to get going on any serious mechanistic long-COVID research,” says immunologist Danny Altmann at Imperial College London. “It’s hard to piece the big picture together.”

Thus far, vaccines are the best way to prevent long COVID. COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and they might lessen the risk of long COVID after a breakthrough infection in someone who has been vaccinated.

Several studies have looked at this question: although they have yielded divergent results, the overall trend suggests that vaccination could reduce the risk of long COVID by about half among those who become infected after vaccination. For example, one study that has not yet been peer reviewed found that vaccination reduced the chances of developing long-COVID symptoms by about 41% in more than 3,000 double-vaccinated participants who were later infected with SARS-CoV-2.


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