Researchers have long suspected that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of developing long COVID. To back up that hypothesis, several extensive and well-conducted studies have consistently shown that COVID-19 vaccines do offer significant protection against long COVID.
There are lots of falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines, such as vaccines “cause” long COVID, often pushed by the regular roster of anti-vaccine activists, but these robust scientific studies decidedly favor the usefulness of vaccines to reduce the risk of long COVID.
I will list out the best studies that show the success of vaccination in preventing long COVID.
What is long COVID?
Long COVID, also known as chronic COVID, long-haul COVID, or long-term effects of COVID, is a form of COVID-19 infection that lingers for weeks, months, and, in many cases, years.
Most people get better within a few days or weeks after being infected, especially those who have been fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, a large proportion of individuals who get the disease first appear to recover, but the symptoms return for a long period of time (again, for years). They also develop new symptoms or health conditions within a few months of the original COVID-19 infection.
Long-COVID conditions do not affect everyone the same way. They can cause various types and combinations of symptoms in different people. The symptoms may affect other parts of the body, for example:
- General symptoms, such as fatigue and fever
- Respiratory symptoms, such as trouble breathing and cough
- Heart symptoms, such as chest pain and palpitations
- Neurologic symptoms such as trouble thinking and concentrating (“brain fog”), headaches, and sleep problems
- Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach pain
- Some people may have a wide variety of symptoms similar to those of other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Although most individuals will improve over time, a significant number will continue to show these symptoms for years. Sometimes the symptoms are severe enough to result in disability.
Vaccines and long COVID-19 research
I will review four of the best research studies that show that vaccination reduces the risk and the timeline of long COVID. I chose the ones with the largest sample sizes plus a good study design, both of which are necessary for good biomedical research.
- In a study published on 22 May 2023 in Nature Communications, researchers examined the electronic health records of more than 5 million people (this is a large study) diagnosed with COVID-19. They found that the COVID-19 vaccines reduced the risk of long COVID by over 37%. The authors concluded, “We found that vaccination was consistently associated with lower odds and rates of long COVID clinical diagnosis.”
- In a systematic review (considered the best of biomedical research) published on 1 February 2023 in BMJ Medicine, researchers concluded that the ten studies reviewed showed a significant reduction in the incidence of long COVID among patients who received one of the vaccines. Furthermore, they found that even one dose of a vaccine protected against long COVID.
- In a systematic review and meta-analysis (again, the best of research) published on 6 December 2022 in Antimicrobial Stewardship and Healthcare Epidemiology, researchers concluded that the COVID-19 vaccines were 29% effective in preventing symptoms of long COVID compared to not vaccinating at all.
- In a meta-analysis published on 1 June 2023 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed more than 40 published studies that included a total of 860,000 individuals. They found that two doses of COVID-19 vaccines reduced the risk of long COVID by nearly 50%.
Why are these vaccines so effective against the long forms of this disease? Well, some of the papers speculated on this.
First, in vaccinated individuals, the virus may infect the respiratory system but does not infect the rest of the body because the immune system has been boosted by the vaccines.
Second, individuals who are fully vaccinated rarely get a second or third bout with the disease. Unvaccinated individuals who get a second or third round also are much more at risk of long COVID-19 despite having a “natural” immunity from bouts with the disease.
Aaron Friedberg, MD, clinical co-leader of the Post COVID Recovery Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center explains these hypotheses:
When you get COVID and you’ve been vaccinated, the virus may still attach in your nose and respiratory tract, but it’s less likely to spread throughout your body. It’s like a forest fire — if the ground is wet or it starts to rain, it’s less likely to create a great blaze. As a result, your body is less likely to experience inflammation and damage that makes it more likely that you’ll develop long COVID.
That’s a lot of data using the best scientific studies to come to the following conclusions:
- COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of long COVID by up to 50%.
- Vaccination does NOT increase the risk of long COVID, debunking a claim that has been pushed by anti-vaxxers for two years. There is no evidence supporting this claim.
Since COVID-19 is still circulating (and since people have given up on masking and social distancing, it’s not going away), research shows that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce your risk of contracting the disease with the added benefit of significantly reducing your risk of developing long COVID.
Although many of you think that COVID-19 is “old news,” it really isn’t. There are still good reasons to get the vaccine, and one of them is to prevent long COVID.
- Brannock MD, Chew RF, Preiss AJ, Hadley EC, Redfield S, McMurry JA, Leese PJ, Girvin AT, Crosskey M, Zhou AG, Moffitt RA, Funk MJ, Pfaff ER, Haendel MA, Chute CG; N3C; RECOVER Consortia. Long COVID risk and pre-COVID vaccination in an EHR-based cohort study from the RECOVER program. Nat Commun. 2023 May 22;14(1):2914. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-38388-7. PMID: 37217471; PMCID: PMC10201472.
- Byambasuren O, Stehlik P, Clark J, Alcorn K, Glasziou P. Effect of covid-19 vaccination on long covid: systematic review. BMJ Med. 2023 Feb 1;2(1):e000385. doi: 10.1136/bmjmed-2022-000385. PMID: 36936268; PMCID: PMC9978692.
- Marra AR, Kobayashi T, Suzuki H, Alsuhaibani M, Hasegawa S, Tholany J, Perencevich E, Maezato AM, Ricardo VCV, Salinas JL, Edmond MB, Rizzo LV. The effectiveness of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine in the prevention of post-COVID-19 conditions: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Antimicrob Steward Healthc Epidemiol. 2022 Dec 6;2(1):e192. doi: 10.1017/ash.2022.336. PMID: 36505947; PMCID: PMC9726631.
- Tsampasian V, Elghazaly H, Chattopadhyay R, Debski M, Naing TKP, Garg P, Clark A, Ntatsaki E, Vassiliou VS. Risk Factors Associated With Post-COVID-19 Condition: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2023 Jun 1;183(6):566-580. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.0750. PMID: 36951832; PMCID: PMC10037203.
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