LONDON: COVID-19 vaccines tend to alleviate the symptoms of the medical phenomenon known as “long Covid,” according to a survey involving 800 people.
The study suggests that mRNA vaccines are particularly beneficial in battling long Covid symptoms.
The virus was initially understood to be a largely respiratory illness that most people would recover from within a month, but people started to report symptoms that continued for many months.
Medical experts are still hunting for a consensus definition for the phenomenon, with people suffering from chronic fatigue to organ damage.
There are also mysteries surrounding appropriate and effective treatment plans that can be standardized across the population.
But anecdotal reports have so far suggested that vaccines can help some people who are still struggling with COVID-19 symptoms long after their original infection.
The analysis has yet to be peer reviewed, but the results of the survey by advocacy group LongCovidSOS could offer medical practitioners a pathway to restoring normalcy to many.
The survey consisted of 812 mostly white, female participants with long Covid in Britain and internationally, who were contacted via social media.
The participants were asked to wait at least a week after their first dose of the jab to prevent their responses being affected by vaccine side effects.
Changes across 14 common long Covid symptoms were compared before and after the first inoculation.
LongCovidSOS data found that 56.7 percent of respondents experienced an overall improvement in symptoms, with 24.6 percent reporting no changes and 18.7 percent finding that their symptoms worsened after the jab.
In general, participants who received mRNA vaccines (such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna jabs) reported more improvements in symptoms than those who got an adenovirus vaccine (Oxford-AstraZeneca).
The Moderna vaccine was found to have the most promising results, with participants seeing the greatest improvements in symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle pain.
The analysis found that Moderna recipients were also less likely to endure a deterioration in their ailments.
“This survey will reassure people that they would have to be quite unlucky to really have an overall worsening of symptoms,” said LongCovidSOS analysis author Ondine Sherwood. “The data is very encouraging, but we don’t know how long the benefits last.”
Dr. David Strain, an analysis author and senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said: “There isn’t a blood pressure tablet that fixes everybody … and similarly, there’s not one long Covid treatment that’s going to fix everyone — but the fact that one treatment does fix something means that there’s bound to be other treatments out there that will fix others.”
As the assessment was via survey, there can be no definitive proof to show that the vaccine caused the improvement in symptoms.
After suffering from long Covid symptoms for so long, the improvement could have come from natural regeneration.
However, Strain said of the 130 people in the survey who received both vaccine doses, some improved after their first jab — before finding their situation worsening again — and then improved further after their second inoculation.
But Nisreen Alwan, an associate professor in public health at the University of Southampton, warned that as the improvement in symptoms had abated in about half the participants by the time they completed the survey, the analysis could show that the vaccine-inspired improvement was fleeting.
Mystery remains about the cause of long Covid, with some experts theorizing that it could involve the persistence of the virus remaining within the body — such as fragments of the virus lingering after infection — and the immune system overreacting to the remaining virus and damaging healthy tissues.
Strain said the LongCovidSOS analysis suggested that COVID-19 vaccines help to reset the immune system, telling it to target the virus and spare itself.
But he cautioned that this explanation is speculation and will need further investigation to be supported.
Prof. Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said: “How could a vaccine make a subset of long-term sufferers feel better? It’s tempting to hypothesise that this was the subset who had symptoms due to a reservoir of virus that was never properly cleared, and the enormous boost of a potent vaccine equipped them with the immune response to do this. This needs mechanistic investigation of the actual immune responses.”