A Failure to Communicate: The Long COVID Edition

Over the long weekend, I misread an article about Americans’ attitudes towards the pandemic. Overwhelmingly, interviewees discussed hospitalization and death, but only one mentioned long COVID (boldface mine):

Patti Kane-Wood, 78, entered the expo wearing a blue surgical mask but felt uncomfortable by how attendees “were squeezed in there like sardines” and didn’t stay long. She has heard about more people getting covid in the last month than in the last two years. While she feels well-protected from getting her second booster dose, she worries about long-term complications after watching friends develop persistent breathing problems following their illnesses. A recent study found vaccines may offer little protection against most long-covid symptoms.

“If I catch covid, even the slightest case of covid, it’s possible I have long covid and have issues for the rest of my life,” Kane-Wood said. “I’m very afraid because people are very relaxed now and understandably so, but it’s not a time to let our guard down.”

Because of my sloppy reading, I wound up tweeting Fenit Nirappil, and asked him if other interviewees were worried about long COVID, to which he responded:

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This is a massive failure of public health communications. Even if one isn’t cynical about why long COVID hasn’t been emphasized more by officials, the false tradeoff between vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions will make people disabled.

Again, a moderately conservative estimate of the rate of long COVID among infected vaccinated people is one to two percent; it could be higher than that. You are not the weirdo if you’re trying to avoid getting infected.

We can’t really blame the media on this: they do discuss long COVID and run stories about long COVID. This is a joint failure by public health leadership and political leadership, both of which have their reasons for wanting to downplay long COVID. All we can do now is hope that perhaps boosting or Omicron limits the amount of long COVID because we’re not going to get any policy to protect us.

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