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University of Nebraska Medical Center

The Challenges of Defining, Understanding, and Addressing Long COVID

Pfizer

Years have passed since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. And though some immunity (acquired by vaccination or through a combination of vaccination and prior infection) allows people to reincorporate some of the lifestyle and activities that they used to enjoy, the virus continues to significantly impact patients, health systems, and economies around the world. In addition to the devastating effects that acute infection can have on those at high risk for severe illness, so-called long COVID also occurs in people who do not have increased risk factors, as well as in those who were mildly ill or asymptomatic during their initial infection.1,2

Healthcare professionals recognize long COVID, also known as long haul COVID, post-COVID conditions (PCC), or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), as a specific syndrome.Its symptoms vary in longevity (lasting far beyond the more typical course of a few weeks) and severity, and they may fluctuate, changing or reappearing over time.4

The Long COVID Puzzle

“The scientific community is working on different pieces of the puzzle,” says Magdia De Jesus, PhD, Director of Scientific Strategy and Portfolio Lead in Pfizer’s Worldwide Medical and Safety Division.

“When we merge the real-world evidence with an understanding of the science, such as looking at how a disease or condition affects physical changes in a patient, we will see a more holistic picture. We just need to find a few critical pieces of the puzzle in order to answer some key questions,” she says.

“For example,” she proffers, “What is long COVID? How does it happen? What organ systems does it impact and why? How should it be treated? Can it be prevented? What causes it?” She adds, “But right now, there isn’t even a clear definition.”

Researchers agree about the need for preventative and therapeutic approaches to long COVID, but the definition of the condition and how to address it remain up for discussion.

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