An employee prepares a syringe and a container with BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine in Schwaz, Austria.
JOHANN GRODER | UKTN | Getty Images
Sheri Paulson has struggled to get out of bed months after being diagnosed with Covid-19.
The 53-year-old North Dakota resident and her family fell ill with the disease after attending a wedding in August. Paulson, an endurance athlete who runs a farm outside of Fargo, later suffered from fatigue, brain fog and a high heart rate that led doctors to advise her to stop exercising. exercise and undergo cardiac rehabilitation.
It wasn’t until about five days after receiving her first injection of Pfizer in February that she started to feel better.
“Suddenly I wasn’t napping after cardiac rehabilitation,” said Paulson, who also has multiple sclerosis. “And then I started going for walks with my dog. Then I was like, ‘hmm, I think I’m going to run a bit too.'”
Some people who have suffered from persistent and often debilitating symptoms months after their first bout with the virus say they find relief after being vaccinated, health experts puzzling. Survivor Corps, a patient advocacy group for people with so-called long Covid, recently surveyed nearly 900 members and found that 41% reported slight relief from full recovery shortly after receiving the vaccines.
The World Health Organization estimates that around 1 in 10 Covid patients suffer from persistent illness 12 weeks after contracting the virus. Researchers at the University of Washington released data in February that showed one-third of patients reported persistent symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath and sleep disturbances, which lasted for up to nine months.
Symptoms of a long Covid, which researchers now call the post-acute sequelae of Covid-19, or PASC, can develop long after the initial infection, and the severity can range from mild to debilitating, officials say. public health and health experts.
One of the largest global studies published in early January found that many people with persistent illness after infection are unable to return to work at full capacity six months later. The study interviewed more than 3,700 people aged 18 to 80 from 56 countries.
Diana Berrent, who founded Survivor Corps just over a year ago, suffered months from Covid for months before most of her symptoms went away on their own last year. She said some members of the organization were initially reluctant to get the vaccine. Members were concerned that the reported side effects of the injections would worsen their symptoms, she said.
“We were really expecting the worst,” from the vaccines, she told UKTN. “You could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out some people were starting to get better because it was so outside of what we expected.”
They are not alone. Facebook and Twitter are full of stories of people who testify, to their own surprise, that their symptoms have improved or even disappeared after receiving a Covid vaccine.
Not well understood
The cause of the persistent symptoms is still not fully understood by health experts.
Most studies have focused on people with serious or fatal illness, not those who have recovered but are still reporting persistent side effects, the so-called long-haul ones. The virus is also relatively new – discovered just over a year ago – so there is no long-term data on this.
The National Institutes of Health launched an initiative in February to study Covid for a long time and identify potential causes and treatments. NIH director Dr Francis Collins said at the time that researchers hope to understand the underlying biological cause of the prolonged symptoms.
Doctors are also unsure why some patients with long Covid say they feel better after being vaccinated. Understanding this, experts say, could provide new insight into what is behind the lingering symptoms as well as potential new treatments.
Sheri Paulson with her dog Jazzy in North Dakota.
Courtesy: Sheri Paulson
The viral reservoir
One theory, according to Yale immunologist Akiko Iwasaki, is that vaccines help clear the so-called “viral reservoir,” where the virus can still linger in the body and cause chronic symptoms. The robust immune response induced by the vaccines can help remove any residual virus, eliminating symptoms, she said.
“It’s probably the easiest way,” vaccines could help people, she said. “If so, people will be healed from the long Covid, and that will be wonderful news.”
Iwasaki also speculated that Covid could be the root cause of an autoimmune disease where immune cells mistakenly damage the body. If so, the vaccines could provide “temporary relief” of symptoms and patients may eventually need to come back for another dose, she said.
There is no long-term data on how people feel after the vaccine, she said. “But I suspect that if the second [hypothesis] is true, then it will not be a lasting relief. “
The symptoms returned
Darren Brown, a 37-year-old UK-based physiotherapist, said his symptoms returned a few weeks after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Brown suffered from fatigue, restless sleep and poor coordination for several months. He said he felt his long symptoms of Covid were completely gone about three weeks after receiving his first vaccine. But just days before his second dose, he felt his symptoms start to return.
“I started to notice that I was getting more and more tired,” he said. “The level that I thought I could push myself, the threshold, it felt like it had been reduced and I wouldn’t have anything left in me after I got back to work. I just had to go to bed after a day’s work.”
He has been feeling better since his second dose but is concerned that his symptoms will return.
“I’m really careful that it doesn’t last long,” he said. “But I’m also really overwhelmed with the excitement that this will be lifted at this time.”
Paulson, a farmer from North Dakota, said she still had some symptoms, but the fatigue and brain fog were gone since she received her second vaccine on March 18. She added that she was grateful for how well she was, especially as many more died from the disease.
“There are always things that put life in perspective for you that put you back on your heels a little bit,” said Paulson, who also works for a Massachusetts-based biotech company.
While reports of relief from long symptoms of Covid may be good news, they are still only anecdotal, said Dr Paul Offit, a voting member of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biologics Advisory Committee.
An official trial is still needed to determine if the vaccines actually help, he said.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, said he was skeptical but “open-minded”.
“This is a question to be answered and I hope we have some decent data that can confirm or refute that,” Bogoch said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of collective anecdotes”
Iwasaki told UKTN that she plans to conduct a study, together with Survivor Corps, analyzing blood samples from long Covid patients before and after being vaccinated. She said he hoped he could explain the relief some patients feel after the vaccination.
The study is still in the planning phase, she said, adding: “We are working very hard to get this up and running.”
“I have received a lot of emails and DMs on Twitter about patient experiences … and I hear every day from people who are feeling better after getting the vaccine,” she said. “From where I am, that sounds encouraging.”
– UKTN’s Noah Higgins-Dunn contributed to this report.