Long COVID has destroyed my life
I would love nothing more than to “finally ignore COVID,” as the headline to Dr. Ashish Jha’s July 31 op-ed reads (“With a few basic steps, most of us can finally ignore COVID”). As a healthy, vaccinated, and recently boosted 35-year-old, I did what he said: I ignored COVID-19 on a weekend trip with friends in September 2022. But the infection I got as a result has all but destroyed my life.
A week after my infection, I began to experience intense fatigue, overwhelming headaches, and cognitive challenges that continue to this day. These symptoms are debilitating: I can no longer work, socialize, or travel. My finances are dire. And if I am unable to avoid another infection, my condition may deteriorate even further.
Jha wrote of long COVID “treatments” being promising. Perhaps he could clarify what treatments he is referring to, because my doctors say that there are no approved treatments for long COVID.
A recent study funded by the NIH’s RECOVER initiative showed that 10 percent of adults infected with COVID still have symptoms six months later, even with vaccination. By downplaying the prevalence and debilitating outcomes of even moderate long COVID, Jha is signing thousands of people up to the misery and despair with which I live every day.
Ezra J. Spier
Another view from infectious disease doctors
As infectious disease doctors, we disagree with Dr. Jha’s contention that it is time to ignore COVID-19.
Yes, being vaccinated and taking Paxlovid thankfully decrease the risk of severe disease. But only 43 percent of people age 65 and over and only 17 percent of all Americans had received an updated COVID vaccination by May 2023, and access to Paxlovid treatment is inequitable by race and insurance status.
Long-term complications of COVID can be devastating, including after second infections.
More than half a million Americans have died since the summer of 2021, when sufficient vaccine doses were available: COVID death rates in the United States continue to be double those of Canada. Termination of free tests and “commercialization” of medications as implemented by the federal government will only widen our country’s grisly COVID-related health disparities.
Inevitably, ignoring COVID leads to ignoring the slow-motion epidemic of long COVID. Standing up against such neglect, leaders like Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Governor Maura Healey can promote meaningful measures to protect our communities: air purification in all schools and public spaces; free COVID-preventive masks (KN95 or N95, not surgical masks); tests, vaccines, and Paxlovid for all who cannot afford to buy them; and concern for and support of long COVID victims.
Dr. Julia Koehler
Dr. Regina LaRocque
We remain vulnerable to long COVID
Ashish Jha’s position as former White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator is a conflict of interest masquerading as a qualification for his op-ed. Researchers who study long COVID stated in a recent paper in Nature Reviews Immunology that “the oncoming burden of long COVID faced by patients, health-care providers, governments and economies is so large as to be unfathomable.” Rapid tests, which are less accurate with recent strains while PCR tests are less available, and low death rates give a false sense of security.
I agree that despite progress, more buildings need the air filtration and ventilation that would make public life safer. But Jha omits our vulnerability to long COVID after even mild infections, its devastating effects, and higher death rates for hospital-acquired COVID-19, combined with a lack of collective protection in health care settings with unmasked, untested people who prefer to ignore COVID-19.
Aside from advocating vaccines, he describes an everyone-for-themselves approach, not mentioning responsibility to protect others or access to essentials.
Jha dines in a restaurant with his friends while patients even in leading cancer hospitals are forced into Russian roulette, thanks to this approach.
Vigilance is necessary to prevent long COVID
While I understand the desire to promote optimism amid the ongoing pandemic, I am deeply concerned about the potential consequences of downplaying the importance of COVID precautions and the significant risk of long COVID. As a person living with long COVID for the last 16 months despite being vaccinated and boosted, I have experienced post-exertional malaise, fatigue, headaches, joint and muscle pain, cognitive dysfunction, and more symptoms that have continued to today. I have tried numerous medicines, supplements, and even participated in a clinical trial, only to find limited relief from the persistent effects of this virus.
Such a stance overlooks the reality that millions more people could end up with long COVID if we fail to remain vigilant in our efforts to combat the virus. Long COVID is a devastating consequence of this virus, and we cannot rely solely on vaccinations to end the pandemic. Even with widespread vaccination, the risk of contracting long COVID remains high. A recent study funded by the NIH’s RECOVER initiative showed that 10 percent of adults infected with COVID still have symptoms six months later. Minimizing the significance of long COVID not only neglects the suffering of long-haulers but also risks undermining public health efforts to control the spread of the virus.
By raising awareness about the risk of long COVID, media outlets can play a pivotal role in educating the public and promoting continued vigilance. Responsible reporting on the enduring impact of long COVID can serve as a reminder that the pandemic is far from over and that we must remain committed to taking necessary precautions to protect ourselves and others. Highlighting the struggles of long COVID survivors and the lack of proven treatments can spur further research and medical advancements in addressing this condition. Empathy and support for those living with long COVID are essential in paving the way for better understanding, compassionate care, and better health outcomes for everyone as COVID rates increase again this summer.