Word of the Month: Long COVID

Long COVID, also called post-COVID conditions, is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as health problems lasting four or more weeks after first getting COVID-19.

Headshot of Dr. Michael Ybarra
Michael Ybarra, MDOctober 19, 2022

Word of the Month: Long COVID.

What is Long COVID?

Long COVID, also called post-COVID conditions, is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as health problems lasting four or more weeks after first getting COVID-19. It is estimated that nearly one in five American adults who have had COVID-19 are impacted by some form of long COVID. Patients suffering from long COVID may experience a range of symptoms affecting the lungs, including trouble breathing, coughing and shortness of breath. Other symptoms patients have reported include memory or concentration issues, depression or anxiety and even dizziness or joint pain.

Because long COVID symptoms can affect several body systems, individual care should be tailored by a health care provider. Although there are no treatments yet approved specifically for long COVID, health care providers may recommend certain treatments based on a patient’s specific symptoms.

How can I avoid long COVID and what is the biopharmaceutical industry doing to combat it?

First and foremost, primary COVID vaccination and boosters are critical to protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying because of COVID, and early data suggests they may also lower the risk of developing long COVID. The biopharmaceutical industry continues to research, develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, including the newly FDA-authorized bivalent boosters. There are also a number of treatment options available, including oral antiviral medications and monoclonal antibodies that can be used as pre-exposure prophylaxis for patients with weakened immune systems. Studies are also underway to understand if currently available COVID-19 treatments could also be used to treat long-COVID.

What is being done to better understand long COVID?

There are many questions still unanswered about long COVID. However, new and ongoing clinical trials are underway to test potential therapies for long COVID symptoms. Currently, there are 39 active clinical trials globally investigating long COVID treatments — part of the nearly 1,300 global clinical trials under way exploring products to fight COVID-19. Recently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the “RECOVER Initiative” to build on existing research by biopharmaceutical companies and others to learn more about long COVID symptoms. This kind of initiative is important to growing the toolbox of treatment options available for clinicians to be able to offer their patients hope.

Furthermore, as we continue to learn more about the novel coronavirus, biopharmaceutical researchers are also working to identify and uncover biomarkers, or additional science-driven, fit-for-purpose measurements, to better understand and address long COVID symptoms.

Are the vaccines safe?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines are subject to the same regulatory standards, set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as other vaccines and biological products; meaning they meet all the same approval or emergency use authorization standards as other vaccines. Biopharmaceutical companies are subject to the FDA’s robust human research subject protection requirements throughout clinical development of the vaccines. And FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice Requirements help ensure consistent quality manufacturing of vaccines and other products. To this end, a cohort of biopharmaceutical companies developing COVID-19 vaccines have pledged “to make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals the top priority in development of the first COVID-19 vaccines.” Moreover, detailed information on FDA’s review and authorization/approval of each vaccine is available on the FDA’s website and individual companies have taken steps for additional transparency.

As we continue to fight COVID-19, it is critical everyone who is able to get vaccinated does so. Further, as we approach flu season, patients should talk to their health care provider about getting a flu shot. Annual flu vaccines are a critical tool to help prevent or diminish the impact of the influenza virus and keep individuals safe and healthy. Masks, hand washing and social distancing will also reduce the risk of contracting influenza. America’s biopharmaceutical companies play a leading role in preventing and reducing the impact of influenza by developing and manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses of the flu vaccine every year.

Protect yourself and protect your community. Get vaccinated and take precautions. Learn more at PhRMA.org/Coronavirus.

PhRMA’s Word of the Month series looks at issues important to the biopharmaceutical ecosystem and spotlights opportunities to create a better health care system that helps patients make appropriate decisions about their health. Check out the full series here.

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