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Vaccination may ease Long COVID patients — Small Bristol study

For those suffering from the effects of long COVID, this has been one of the worst years of their lives. But reports The Daily Telegraph, now there is a glimmer of hope. Early studies and surveys of long COVID sufferers indicate that for some, the vaccine can reduce their symptoms or even make them go away completely.

The report says the latest figures show that of nearly 600 long COVID sufferers who have received their first vaccine, one-third of people say they feel better, with 5.5% saying their symptoms have “largely or completely resolved”.

“For those of us especially who caught COVID in wave one and continued to suffer from the symptoms, it has felt like an endless tunnel,” says Gez Medinger, who suffers from long COVID and who conducted the survey among patient support groups. “But this is finally the light that we need.”

Long COVID sufferers’ experience is reflected in a small study by researchers at the respiratory unit at North Bristol NHS Trust. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, reported that of the 44 long COVID sufferers, those who had been vaccinated reported an improvement in their symptoms, including breathing and joint pain, than those who had not received the vaccine. While two-thirds of participants initially felt worse the day after vaccination with headaches and fever, a month later 23.2% said that their long COVID symptoms had improved.

Dr David Strain, clinical lead for COVID services at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust, is in the unusual position of both treating long COVID sufferers and being one himself. He caught COVID in November. “Working day in, day out on a COVID ward it was inevitable,” the 48-year-old is quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying. He describes his long COVID symptoms as “being on the milder end; I can get about two hours of clear head space before I get too fatigued. Iʼm lucky; some people canʼt manage 20 minutes.” He had his vaccine in early February. “I was deliberately pausing it because there was a fear that if long COVID was an autoimmune disease, then the vaccine might make it worse.” But after four days he says he felt noticeably better: “I was able to start exercising again, which was something I hadnʼt done in three months.”

However, The Daily Telegraph reports, not everyone experiences the boost: in Medingerʼs survey just under half of his respondents reported feeling no different, with 4.8% feeling “much worse”.

Medinger himself reports mixed results after his vaccine last week. “I have longer periods between the waves of fatigue, which makes me feel closer to normal, but the fatigue is more intense when it does come.”

Others who did report an improvement say that the results do not necessarily last. After being symptom-free for a month, Strain says his symptoms are “slowly coming back now.”

But he says, that is not as depressing as it might sound. “A month without symptoms means that firstly I wasnʼt going mad – there was something wrong with me. But also, that there is a treatment out there. If vaccines are making these symptoms better, even temporarily, then we will be able to have a greater understanding of what causes this.”

The report says scientists currently do not have a clear view as to why the vaccine might help ease long COVID symptoms. “There are three main theories circulating, but the one I favour the most is that the vaccine acts as an immune reset button,” Strain explains.

“The theory is that (for those who suffer from long COVID) after the infection your body continues to produce some immune responses and the virus uses your immune system against yourself. When you have a vaccine, it points your immune system in the right direction, which then goes on to fight the virus.” He adds that it would mean regular vaccines are needed. “The underlying problem will still be there, but each vaccine would give the immune system a boost. But this is still theoretical. What we need is more research.”

Which is starting to happen, The Daily Telegraph reports. Along with Medingerʼs survey, which is ongoing, the support group Long COVID SOS is also running a vaccine survey among its 18,000 members.

“We are looking how the various vaccines are impacting peopleʼs symptoms over time, in partnership with clinicians and academics,” Ondine Sherwood, one of the groupʼs co-founders, says.

The group will report on its findings in a couple of weeks. “The next step would be for a randomised, controlled clinical trial to be set up to look at this further.”

Full report in The Daily Telegraph (Restricted access)

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