Getting vaccinated against Covid can halve your risk of suffering long Covid, real-world UK data suggests.
A study of 6,000 people found those double-jabbed with Pfizer or Moderna were 49.6 per cent less likely to have lingering symptoms such as fatigue three months after infection.
Two doses of AstraZeneca‘s vaccine gave slightly lower protection, slashing the chance by 37.7 per cent.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) report did not look at boosters and did not cover the Omicron wave.
In total, 1.3million people in the UK were estimated to be living with long Covid — defined as having virus symptoms for more than 12 weeks.
The condition was reported in 9.5 per cent of people who had two jabs compared to 14.6 per cent of the unvaccinated.
The ONS analysis was based on people aged 18 to 69 and included people who had a positive test by November 30 last year. It relied on people self-reporting their own symptoms, meaning they were not clinically diagnosed.
While it’s still not entirely clear how vaccination protects against Covid, people who get severely ill with the initial infection often go on to suffer lingering symptoms.
Jabs greatly reduce the risk of serious disease in the first place by priming the immune system and training it how to recognise and fight the real Covid.
Separate analysis suggests NHS staff in England have taken around 1.8million sick days because of long Covid since March 2020.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggested two doses of AstraZeneca’s jab reduces the risk of long Covid by 37.7 per cent compared to being unvaccinated (bottom). And two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna’s jabs have an even greater protection, slashing the chances by 49.6 per cent (middle). Graphs show: The chance of having long Covid after doses of a vaccine compared to being unvaccinated
What is Long Covid?
As of October 2, an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK were estimated to have long Covid, according to the NHS.
Long Covid is an informal term, used to describe ongoing symptoms following a Covid infection that go on longer than 12 weeks.
A dizzying array of symptoms have been attributed to long Covid, including:
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration (‘brain fog’)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
There is no cure for the condition though the NHS does recommend a number of treatments designed to help alleviate the symptoms.
A vaccine mandate for all frontline NHS is due to come in effect on April 1, with 77,000 facing the sack.
After weeks of bullishly defending the controversial plan, Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday hinted the Government could still back down.
For the latest report, the ONS asked participants whether they had suffered long Covid ‘of any severity’ since April 2020, or if their activity was limited by the condition.
It linked their answers to NHS Immunisation Management Service (NIMS) vaccine data to check which jab they were given, or if they were unvaccinated.
The ONS estimated two doses of either vaccine reduced the risk of getting long Covid by 41.1 per cent. And the jabs reduced the risk of having ‘activity-limiting’ long Covid by 40.7 per cent.
Some 8.7 per cent of unvaccinated survey participants said they suffered debilitating long Covid.
In comparison, just 5.5 per cent of people jabbed twice with any company’s vaccine reported the same.
Dr James Doidge, a senior statistician at the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC), said: ‘There is one crucial factor that the analysis does not control for: Covid variant.
‘Most of the unvaccinated group were infected during the wild or Alpha-dominant periods whereas most of the vaccinated group were infected during the Delta wave.
‘We already know from other research that Delta is associated with about a 31 per cent lower odds of having symptoms persisting to 28 days.
‘This analysis indicates a 41 per cent difference at 12 weeks so it seems likely that much of this difference is explained not by vaccination but by differences in the variant to which each group was exposed.’
Experts have previously cast doubt over the ONS’s long Covid sufferer findings, with some saying they are likely to be an overestimation given symptoms like headaches and fatigue can be linked to a variety of conditions.
The figures come after a report by the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus which found thousands of NHS staff have been off work with long Covid since the start of the pandemic.
Nearly 80,000 frontline NHS staff are still yet to have a single dose of the vaccine.
All staff need to have had two doses by April 1 or face losing their job, under plans laid out by the Department of Health. It means they must get their first jab by next week in order to meet the target.
But Mr Javid yesterday said the policy was being kept ‘under review’, insisting it is ‘right’ to reflect on proposals as the pandemic changes.
He said that plans for compulsory jabs for frontline workers were made when the Delta variant was the dominant strain in the UK, but now ‘almost all’ cases are the Omicron variant which is ‘intrinsically less severe’.
The APPG report found despite the lack of severity, an estimated nearly 2million sick days were taken by NHS staff for ‘long Covid’ between March 2020 and September 2021.
They based their estimate on 200 Freedom of Information requests sent to NHS Trusts in England, of which 70 responded with relevant data on absences.
The true figure could be higher, with the condition not known in the early months of the pandemic and therefore unlikely to appear in the trusts’ records.
The group called for the condition to be recognised as an occupational disease.
Layla Moran, chair of the APPG on coronavirus, said: ‘While much of the focus of the past two years has been on fighting the pandemic, the government has paid almost no attention to Long Covid and the severe impact it is having on our vital public services.
‘Thousands of frontline workers are now living with an often debilitating condition after being exposed to the virus while protecting this country.
‘They cannot now be abandoned.’