But heaven forbid one be cynical about such things (boldface mine):
We’ve known for well over a year how prevalent and severe long Covid is, yet the public remains largely uninformed around its risk. While the likelihood of someone developing the condition after infection has ranged from 5% or 50% (a recent meta-analysis pins it to 20-30%, and 10% if vaccinated), the most conservative estimate still amounts to one in 20 people. A “medically rare event” is one in 1,000.
As the Mayo Clinic research team recently said, regardless of where the final number ends up, “this is a condition that is not rare.”
So why are we not warning the public? If public health institutions want to establish trust with the public, they need to be honest about what the science is telling us. Right now they are not – and their silence around long Covid can be described as misinformation around the risk of infection – which is no different than anti-vaccination misinformation around the risk of vaccines.
In addition, studies demonstrate informing the public about long Covid encourages them to follow public health guidelines, and reduces vaccine hesitancy.
So what’s going on?
Let me take a guess: it would be difficult to promote a policy of “endemic infection that resembles a mild seasonal flu” while simultaneously warning the public that one in 10 infected will go on to develop a chronic illness, regardless of infection severity. In other words, it doesn’t fit nicely with a strategy of unmitigated spread where we are “living with Covid”.
Any decision that ignores long Covid at the cost of a humming economy and “returning to normal” is not only immoral and craven, it’s severely flawed. Long Covid is already having a devastating impact on the economy: in the US, the most conservative estimates are that 1.6 million are already out of the workforce due to long Covid, and in the UK, a quarter of employers cite it as a leading reason for long-term absence.
While I think five percent for chronic fatigue and mental disability (‘brain fog’) among the vaccinated could be high (likely closer to one to two percent), that’s still a ton of life-altering disability: the other symptoms suck too, but in the U.S. in 2022, Year of Our Gritty, if you can’t work, you’re fucked. You’re not a weirdo if you’re trying to avoid that.
I think there are several things happening. First, the desire for normalcy, both economic and behavioral, means people, including our political betters, don’t want to hear about long COVID. They certainly don’t want to feel guilty about causing long-term disability. Second, some business owners don’t want to admit things aren’t safe: this might not save money over the economic long-term, but many owners would gladly sacrifice income in the service of ideology. Third, despite the evidence to the contrary, many public health officials genuinely, if incorrectly, believe that anything that makes the vaccines appear less than TEH AWESUM! should not be mentioned, so long COVID is not to be discussed (they still don’t realize there’s a difference between persuasion and manipulation).
Politically, this seems to be a huge roll of the dice for the Biden administration. If a lot of people wind up with long COVID, with no end in sight for their misery, let’s say around September 2022, this doesn’t bode well for the midterms.