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Mark Embling

Vaccination and Long Covid; Still Concerned

The results of a study have been published recently which confirm that, following vaccination, the risk of developing Long Covid is substantially reduced. This is, of course, great news - but here's why I'm still worried.

A brief history

Firstly I should start by explaining briefly where I'm coming from. Why I have an opinion about this specifically, and why I think it's worth us considering this in more depth than just a positive headline and moving on.

I was unlucky enough to end up being infected with Covid way back at the start of the first wave. This was even before the government realised how big of a problem it would be and long before anyone was being tested with it (except for perhaps severe hospitalised cases). It was a miserable time like any nasty viral infection can be, but thankfully I got over it and was never hospitalised. Many were more unlucky than I, being hospitalised, ventilated or sadly losing their lives.

However, little did I know then that I'd end up going on to live with Long Covid symptoms afterwards - nor how debilitating that would be at times. It wasn't until early summer of 2020 that I was basically taken entirely out of commission by Long Covid.

What's worse is that I was aware of the virus in the media going back to the start of 2020, possibly even the very end of 2019. That's about the time when headlines about a mysterious new virus in China started appearing. Maybe it's the little bit of prepper mindset in me, maybe it's an innate pessimist, or maybe something else, but even then, as things progressed, I had a bad feeling. However, like we all did, I carried on as normal, naively hoping that if there was a real problem coming, I'd know about it before it came for me but that things would probably calm down before long. But as someone once said, things did not calm down: they did, in fact, calm up.

So as you may imagine, I've had a bit more of a vested interest than many people in keeping abreast of everything that's been going on and what that might really mean over the last 18 months. And that's why I'm writing this now.

Vaccinations and optimism...?

So, back to the present. A majority of us (of which I am a part) are all vaccinated, hopefully fully. The findings from a recent study have been released which detail how the risk of developing Long Covid following an infection have changed for those who have received two jabs compared to the unvaccinated. Basically it says that the risk of developing symptoms lasting beyond four weeks are cut by 50%.

This is good, right?

Predictably, plenty of headlines are popping up, excitedly proclaiming these findings and projecting an air of confidence and optimism. This is slotting neatly into the current government-driven narrative of how we should all get on with our lives and learn to live with the virus. Get back to work, get out and about, do all the things you've been itching to do. It'll be fiiiiine! (But if it's not fine, it's your fault. Take responsibility. We, your government, won't.)

But what does this really all mean? Well, the honest answer is that I don't know. I don't know for several reasons. Firstly, I'm not an epidemiologist or indeed any kind of medical professional or specialist at all. I'm not a data analyst or statistician either - although as a software developer, I am no stranger to data, dealing with data and numbers, and applying logical and critical thinking around problems.

Let me explain

So to dig into this in a bit more detail, I want to start out with some broadly accepted facts:

  • Vaccination cuts the risk of developing a Covid infection.
  • However, it does not cut that risk to zero. Infections in fully vaccinated individuals definitely still happen.
  • From this study, vaccination also cuts the risk of an infection resulting in Long Covid.
  • But again, that risk is only cut by 50% and is not eliminated.
  • Previously-infected individuals can be re-infected (and this is likely helped along by the conveyor belt of variants emerging over time.)
  • Everyone is different.

Now I think that final point is probably a key one so I'd like to start there for a little bit of a thought exercise.

As I've said, I developed Long Covid, as did many others. However a majority of people did not. So it might be reasonable to assume that, for whatever reason, I'm more prone to it than others may be, and at this point who can say why that is. Indeed, I actually fall outside of most of the factors which were found to increase the risk of Long Covid - for example, I'm not female. I'm certainly not alone in this though, so this is definitely a problem applicable to a certain subset of people for as-yet unknown reasons.

So the question at the forefront of my mind would be what my likelihood of finding myself back there again would be. For most people who either haven't had a Covid infection or who have but didn't end up with Long Covid, their worries would probably start with "how likely am I to get an infection" and end with "and how likely am I to die or be severely ill with it". Important questions, don't get me wrong, but that thinking tends to frame it all within in a binary world where either you'll die of Covid or you'll recover to full prior health.

But unfortunately it's not that simple. Long Covid happens.

I've been infected with Covid once, and developed Long Covid from that one infection. Looking at that really simplistically, that means I, personally, had a 100% chance of contracting Covid in my everyday life and also had a 100% incidence of Long Covid developing from that. Obviously that's far too simplistic of a view but still, it's a cautious one. When something is as disruptive to your life as this, I think caution is prudent.

So now that I've had one infection (which may have imparted a level of protection) and also have been double-vaccinated (which certainly imparts a level of protection), my chance of suffering re-infection has definitely dropped. And these new findings also suggest that even if I were to get infected, my chance of developing Long Covid again have been halved.

This is good.

However... how much has that chance of re-infection dropped? Who can say?! Especially as it's a picture just full of moving goalposts in terms of variants, the passage of time, and who knows what else. How big or small, for me personally, is that remaining 50% chance of Long Covid? And what effect - in which direction - does a prior Long Covid case (which is as yet still not resolved) have?

That's why I'm still worried.

But wait, there's more

Up until now I've been talking about myself. My risk. My life. And I'll be honest, that's where my motivation starts. I'm not going to lie and say otherwise, and I'm sure, hand on heart, very few people would be able to claim that's not so for them.

But... it definitely doesn't stop there. There are almost certainly people who, for any number of reasons, have an even higher potential risk than I. Having lived it myself, I would not wish it on anybody ever. I feel that in a situation like this, we all have an obligation to protect others around us from harm, especially as we know proven ways of doing that. This is especially important as many of those potential future victims won't have a choice in the matter - they'll be at risk due to unseen/unknown genetic factors, underlying conditions, treatments for conditions, or simply are just too young to have been offered a chance at vaccination or to even have a say in the mitigations (or lack thereof!) in use around them.

So, as I said... that's why I'm still worried.

And one more thing... what if you or a member of your family or friends are just like me, but have so far managed to avoid it? Are you confident that will continue as valuable protections are erased? You wouldn't know it until it's too late.