And not in a good way. One of the most frustrating things about the disappearance of long COVID from any meaningful policy discussion is that, when it comes to long COVID (and for that matter, COVID in general), there is little discussion of actual specifics. For example, no one is providing estimates of what percentage of vaccinated and boosted people, if infected with COVID, will contract long COVID–various symptoms that are debilitating enough such that working and basic care are difficult or impossible. Based on my read of the literature, I’ve pegged that at 1-2 percent, though I might be too conservative according to some.
While the middle-aged Substack Bois downplay long COVID, and rarely mention it–their Manly Logical Rigorousness protects them from long COVID apparently–when they do mention it, there are no numbers attached. No quantification of effect, no estimates. Of course, they would never accept a non-numerical vibes-based policy for other subjects, but it seems half-assing it with a pandemic that has killed well over a million people is just fine.
Which brings us to the most recent edition of the Household Pulse Survey:
As part of an ongoing partnership with the Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently added questions to assess the prevalence of post-COVID-19 conditions (long COVID), on the experimental Household Pulse Survey. This 20-minute online survey was designed to complement the ability of the federal statistical system to rapidly respond and provide relevant information about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Data collection began on April 23, 2020.
Beginning in Phase 3.5 (on June 1, 2022), NCHS included questions about the presence of symptoms of COVID that lasted three months or longer. Beginning in Phase 3.6 (on September 14, 2022), NCHS included a question about whether long-term symptoms among those reporting symptoms lasting three months or longer reduced the ability to carry out day-to-day activities compared with the time before having COVID-19. Phase 3.6 will continue with a two-weeks on, two-weeks off collection and dissemination approach.
The two questions about long COVID are:
Did you have any symptoms lasting 3 months or longer that you did not have prior to having coronavirus or COVID-19?
Long term symptoms may include: Tiredness or fatigue, difficulty thinking, concentrating, forgetfulness, or memory problems (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”), difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, joint or muscle pain, fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations), chest pain, dizziness on standing, menstrual changes, changes to taste/smell, or inability to exercise.
Do these long-term symptoms reduce your ability to carry out day-to-day activities compared with the time before you had COVID-19?
Answer choices: Yes, a lot; Yes, a little; Not at all
A key takeaway from the data is that 29% of infected respondents say they have experienced long COVID at some point, and it seems rather debilitating. While it’s likely the effects of long COVID are overestimated as a percentage of the entire population by about a third (the number of respondents who say they have had COVID is only 50%, which is lower than serological surveys), even if we cut that 29% to 20%, and then claim vaccination cuts the probability of long COVID by ninety percent, that’s still a lot of long COVID among those who are up to date on their shots.
This is going to be a serious problem, both for the healthcare system and the economy, and vibes aren’t going to cut it.