Infectious Disease

Can fully vaccinated people get sick with COVID for a long time?

August 27, 2021

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Healio interview.

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Al-Aly does not report any relevant financial information.

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Long-term COVID, which the CDC defines as “new, recurring, or ongoing health problems” that occur weeks after a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2, has been linked to hundreds of symptoms.

Ziyad Al-Aly

As the Delta variant continues to rise and affect the effectiveness of the vaccine, we have asked Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, FASN, Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Center and Head of Research and Development for the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, When COVID Can Also Occur in Vaccinated Individuals Experiencing Breakthrough Infection.

Source: Adobe Stock.

Source: Adobe Stock

Healio: Is there evidence that fully vaccinated people develop COVID for a long time?

Al-Aly: We are actually doing this study. It’s not ready yet. I mean, it’s really quite a chore, but we do and hopefully we can publicly share our results in about 6 weeks or so.

Breakthrough infections are no longer news. Everyone knows that vaccines are not 100% effective. They’re very, very effective, but never 100%, and people get breakthrough infections. Among the people who get breakthrough infections, the lion’s share of them have a really mild illness. Some [cases] are so mild that they don’t even realize they are actually sick until tested.

However, some actually report symptoms beyond the acute phase or beyond the first 30 days or the first 4 weeks. So it is clear, long COVID is likely to be a thing even in people who are vaccinated and are experiencing a breakthrough infection.

What we don’t really know yet is the extent and rates of long COVID in patient populations and whether it is characteristically different from long COVID experienced by people who do not get vaccinated, or even that people experience COVID-19 before the Vaccine became available.

Healio: Some people who have long been developing COVID asymptomatic infected. Is there also the possibility that a fully vaccinated person could become infected, show no symptoms and contract COVID for a long time?

Al-Aly: It is possible and we are trying to dig deeper into it to find a definitive answer and whether this really happens in people who are completely asymptomatic. But I don’t really have an answer to that. It’s possible, I just don’t really know the prices. Again, this is an evolving field. Every week we try to make a little more progress and understand a little more. But it is entirely possible, yes.

Healio: Vaccination protects people from more serious consequences when they experience a rare breakthrough infection. Does a full vaccination make a person less likely to develop more severe symptoms of prolonged COVID illness?

Al-Aly: This is what I alluded to when I tried to explain whether it is less serious and less extensive. We have long known that COVID involves multiple organ systems and some [symptoms] are really difficult, really incapacitated. Some people cannot really leave the house because of the weakness, brain fog and extreme tiredness.

We are trying to determine if this is the case in vaccinated individuals and we think that long COVID occurs but is less severe or less pronounced and whether it is less pronounced than long COVID in unvaccinated individuals in terms of organ system involvement.

Again, I think this is a very, very important question and we are doing our best to get answers to it as soon as possible.

Healio: Could vaccination delay symptoms?

Al-Aly: It is also possible, but we’re still trying to figure it out. It is possible, and there are some clues – anecdotal here and there; If you put all of these studies together – that vaccinated people have an immune response, they have some immunity. It’s not like they don’t have an immune response to the virus, but some centers do [are reporting] light and mild [symptoms]. But again, I use the word “maybe” because I think there is a lot of uncertainty here and a lot of questions that really need solid answers. I can’t really be final in my answer until I have supporting data in hand. So we don’t know.

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