Guest Editorials, Opinion

The ravages of long COVID are coming into focus

It’s becoming clearer that, even in the unlikely event that we somehow, someday manage to eradicate COVID-19 and its many variants, we can’t wipe clean the enormous toll the virus has taken.

This is not just because of the incalculable loss of those who’ve died, but the struggles of those who’ve lived. The results of a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications — which utilized survey data from around 100,000 people for the most wide-ranging review of the subject — further confirm what we’ve come to fear: a significant percentage of the population will go on to live with long-term, chronic symptoms, even if they initially had mild cases.

Of more than 31,000 symptomatic people in the study, conducted in Scotland, a full 42% reported only partial recovery between six and 18 months post-infection, and 6% reported not recovering at all. The most common problems were respiratory and cognitive, the sort of challenges that can curb a person’s ability to live a full and independent life. This reality, of a still poorly understood set of chronic conditions affecting hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans at a time, will shape our society and government in ways that we’re only starting to grapple with.

The news wasn’t all bad, as the study found that those who’ve been vaccinated or had asymptomatic infections, even if they are not fully insulated, were less likely to suffer these longer-term impacts. That’s why we should be lining up to get jabbed with the latest available vaccines, something that Americans are failing badly at, with only about 4% of those eligible receiving new bivalent booster shots.

Encouraging and in some cases compelling vaccinations remain key, which is why it’s good news that the Supreme Court this week refused to issue an injunction against New York City’s municipal vaccination program. Employers have long had the right to compel their employees to protect themselves. Don’t take that tool away as this virus still kills about 400 Americans a day and infects countless more.