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Corona vaccination: Also protects against long-term diseases


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Some are exhausted, some can't stop coughing, others sleep poorly, can hardly concentrate or are constantly out of breath: the symptoms of Long Covid are manifold. They can occur months after infection and can occur even if someone only had a bit of a fever and runny nose during the acute illness.

So far, the cause of Long Covid cannot be treated. However, a recent study with more than half a million participants shows that vaccination can at least prevent the disease. According to the data, people without vaccination were significantly more likely to develop long Covid than people who had received at least one shot before their first corona infection.

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"The results of this study underline how important it is to vaccinate against Covid-19 across the board – not only to reduce the risk of severe Covid-19 disease, but also to reduce the burden of long Covid in the population," writes the research group led by Maria Bygdell from the University of Gothenburg in the British Medical Journal.

In the past, other studies had already come to the conclusion that vaccination could protect against Long Covid. However, many of the studies had weaknesses from a scientific point of view, such as being based on only a small number of subjects.

Long Covid: 1.4 percent of non-vaccinated affected

For the current study, the research team took advantage of the fact that a large amount of health data is collected in registries in Sweden. As a result, they were able to evaluate information from more than 500,000 people living in Sweden who were detectedfor the first time with a corona infection between the end of 2020 and spring 2022.

Anyone who had contained at least one dose of a corona vaccine before infection was considered vaccinated. The research team compared these data with the number of medically determined long Covid diagnoses in the study group. In doing so, they took into account all diagnoses made up to November 30, 2022.

The results:

  • Of the almost 300,000 vaccinated subjects, 1201 people were diagnosed with Long Covid. This is a share of 0.4 percent.

  • Of the approximately 290,000 people who were not vaccinated, 4118 people received a Long Covid diagnosis. This corresponds to 1.4 percent.

The more vaccinations someone had received before the first infection, the less likely they were to contract long Covid.

Unvaccinated people are also significantly more likely to be hospitalized

This study also has a weakness: With the help of the data, only a correlation between vaccination and the number of diseases can be observed. However, it cannot be proven that vaccination actually reduced the risk of Long Covid and not another commonality in the group of vaccinated people.

To reduce the risk of such biases, the researchers also took into account the influence of factors such as age, gender and pre-existing conditions on the risk of long Covid in additional calculations.

By including these other influencing factors, the protective effect of the vaccination decreased somewhat in the analysis, but statistically speaking, it still prevented 58 percent of long Covid diseases. By comparison, without the other influencing factors, vaccination provided 71 percent protection against disease, according to the calculations.

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Even though it was not the actual goal of the study, the researchers also analysed the association between vaccinations and severe Covid courses. In the study group, unvaccinated people had to be hospitalized with acute Covid-19 disease significantly more often than vaccinated people (four percent compared to 1.5 percent).

This could at least partially explain why vaccination also protects against Long Covid. Of the people treated with Covid-19 in intensive care, more than one in three received a long Covid diagnosis. However, many people get sick with Long Covid even without a severe course. According to the data, vaccination also protects against this.

Who should get vaccinated

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko), based at the Robert Koch Institute, recommends so-called basic immunity to all people aged 18 and over in Germany. This means that everyone should have trained their immune system after three contacts with the virus or components of the virus. Ideally, according to the Stiko, at least two of the three contacts should be due to vaccinations. According to Stiko, those who are healthy and under 60 years of age do not need any further vaccinations. This also applies to pregnant women.

Older people, severely overweight people and people with pre-existing conditions such as COPD or diabetes, on the other hand, should have their vaccination refreshed regularly, as they are still at increased risk of becoming seriously ill after a corona infection.

As a rule, an interval of at least twelve months from the last vaccination or infection should be maintained - however, according to Stiko, it also makes sense to get vaccinated in autumn before the wave of the disease. The corona vaccination can be given at the same time as the flu vaccination. There is even evidence from a recent study that the vaccinated produce more antibodies in this case. However, only 42 people took part in the study.