There are many proven benefits to the COVID vaccine, including a significant decrease in the chance of hospitalization and death. But it doesn’t look like protection from long COVID — the continuation of symptoms months after a COVID diagnosis, which can impact the heart, brain, lungs or general wellness — is among those advantages, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Vaccination clearly provides needed protection, the study says, but “reliance on it as a sole mitigation strategy may not most optimally reduce the risk of the long-term health consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
Vaccinated only slightly less likely to develop long COVID
The study found that people who had received a full round of COVID vaccination were less likely than the unvaccinated to develop long COVID six months after their infection, but only by a small margin, and only related to certain symptoms. The finding was “disappointing,” lead author Ziyad Al-Aly told the Washington Post. “I was hoping to see that vaccines offer more protection, especially given that vaccines are our only line of defence nowadays.”
Using data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the study looked at nearly 34,000 veterans who contracted COVID and found that those who were fully vaccinated when they caught the virus were 15 per cent less likely to experience long COVID symptoms. There were little to no differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated people when it came to long-term kidney failure, neurological problems, fatigue, mental health, and gastrointestinal issues, among several other conditions.
There was a difference, though, in long-term symptoms related to blood clots and lung issues: those were more common in the unvaccinated than in vaccinated people.
There didn’t appear to be any significant difference between people who had received the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The study, one of the biggest of its kind, does have some limitations: it didn’t include data on booster shots or specific COVID sub-variants. And the demographics skewed slight older and more white and male than the general population.
There are still a lot of unknowns about long COVID: it’s not entirely understood why it happens to some people and not others, and why certain symptoms seem to result from a past COVID infection. Research about the vaccine’s effects on long COVID also haven’t led to consistent results: some previous research supports this study’s findings, yet others have suggested that vaccination may in fact help prevent against continuing symptoms.