Despite entering our third year of the pandemic, medical experts are still struggling to pinpoint the exact cause of long COVID – a loosely-defined umbrella term used to describe the lingering symptoms a person may experience after recovering from a COVID-19 infection. Some of the most common symptoms include insomnia, headaches, changes to taste and/or smell, persistent brain fog, and problems with digestion and respiratory systems.
In an article detailing a House subcommittee hearing in July 2022, experts described some of the more concerning symptoms patients experienced weeks – and even months – after their initial bout of COVID. The most concerning of these include cognitive damage, with some patients experiencing overlapping symptoms akin to a brain disease prognosis, and the development of autoimmune disorders and staggering spells of fatigue in individuals who were otherwise healthy pre-COVID.
Contracting Long COVID Boils Down to Chance
A common misconception surrounding long COVID is that one must have endured a severe case of the illness in order to develop symptoms. Recent data, however, has proven that to be untrue. Approximately 76 percent of people who experience long COVID symptoms suffered only a mild case of COVID, and even recovering fully from one instance of COVID is no guarantee that you won’t get long COVID from a secondary (or even third) infection.
According to a recent study, approximately 16 million Americans are living with long COVID as of today. The percentage continues to increase as the pandemic drags on, yet we still do not have a viable treatment for this illusive condition. Since being fully vaccinated (including boosters) lowers an individual’s risk of developing more severe symptoms, there is evidence to suggest that being vaccinated correlates with a person’s reduced risk of contracting long COVID, but that data is incomplete. As of now, the consensus is low regarding precisely how effective being fully vaccinated is at deterring long COVID. According to several studies, vaccination could offer anywhere between 15 – 80 percent more protection from the risk of developing long COVID symptoms.
Currently, the best way to avoid getting long COVID is to not contract COVID in the first place – a tall order considering the virus’s rapid evolution and the increased contagion level of each subvariant. As public health measures across the country end, vaccines continue to be the most accessible line of defense against COVID. However, between nation-wide COVID fatigue, vaccine hesitancy, and the unclear messaging surrounding boosters, it’s fair to assume that citizens won’t be able to keep up with a seemingly never-ending schedule of boosters.
Future Protections Against Long COVID
As the pandemic persists, scientists have offered some measures of relief for more vulnerable populations. Antivirals such as remdesivir, molnupiravir and Paxlovid have saved many lives and reduced COVID’s more drastic symptoms, but these drugs are not the end-all solution for the virus. With many instances of rebound infections, antivirals are still far from a perfect answer. The side effects stemming from antivirals can also be a deterrent for many individuals, with some people unable to take these medications at all as the medication may conflict with their current long-term prescriptions.
Future-proofed antibody therapies are an important solution when it comes to preventing COVID infections, and – therefore – long COVID symptoms. Administered intravenously, monoclonal antibodies provide a neutralizing force that can heal as well as protect, as long as they have been designed to work against variants yet to come. These treatments are imperative when it comes to immunocompromised individuals whose immune systems may not produce the same response to vaccination, and subsequent boosters.
Monoclonal antibody treatment has the ability to block the virus that causes COVID-19 from entering the body and limit the virus’ replication once it’s inside the cells, meaning an individual may have milder symptoms and the likelihood of being admitted to a hospital may also decrease.
Monoclonal antibody therapies have the potential to provide stronger, longer-lasting protection against COVID and significantly lessen the impact the disease has on the body – including the possibility of contracting long COVID.
As the new year approaches, one thing is clear: COVID isn’t going away. Already, new variants have gained ground in the U.S., specifically BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. It is crucial that innovation continues to progress, and monoclonal antibodies will undoubtedly be at the forefront of that innovation.