The Pandemic

Can Omicron Cause Long Covid?

And what exactly is long Covid, anyway? Dr. Tanya Schreibman of CAN Community Health weighs in.

By Allison Forsyth January 28, 2022

If you've experienced long-term side effects from a previous Covid-19 infection, you're not alone. Long Covid—symptoms that persist for four weeks or longer—account for 40 percent of all Covid-19 cases worldwide, according to a November study by WebMD. This includes asymptomatic cases.

Dr. Tanya Schreibman, medical director at CAN Community Health

Dr. Tanya Schreibman, medical director at CAN Community Health

It's still too early to tell whether or not the Omicron variant will cause long Covid in infected individuals, but Dr. Tanya Schreibman, medical director at CAN Community Health, has been analyzing the effect Omicron has had on the local community. She weighs in on whether we should be concerned about long Covid with this variant.

How prevalent is Omicron in our community right now?

The majority of Covid-19 cases circulating in our community are due to Omicron. In fact, the majority of our Florida cases are Omicron. Ninety-nine percent of Covid-19 cases in our hospitals right now are likely due to Omicron, as well. This is because the variant is easier to contract; a higher viral load is found more quickly in the body. Fortunately, we are seeing milder symptoms with Omicron, especially in those who have been vaccinated.

Does vaccination status affect case numbers?

Vaccination status is definitely affecting case numbers right now. We still have a significant amount of people unvaccinated in our community, and they are the ones struggling with more severe Covid cases. Those who are vaccinated can unfortunately still get Omicron, but will likely experience a much milder case because of their immunizations.

Studies are showing two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are 50-60 percent effective against Omicron. With a booster dose on top, the vaccines are 90 percent effective against Omicron. Having three doses is optimal at this point in time.

Are people experiencing long-Covid in our community?

I've spoken with many physicians who have seen many long Covid cases in their practice. There are a significant amount of patients living with one or more symptoms for longer than four weeks. This includes fatigue, breathing difficulty and a persistent cough. Some people can have multi-organ effects with their kidneys, lungs and heart.

Covid is becoming a chronic, long-term illness for many people—and the problem is, we don't have a great definition for long Covid yet. We also don't know if Omicron will cause long Covid, either, because it is so new. Past studies on Delta have shown that, ultimately, long Covid is more likely in those who are severely ill with the disease and/or hospitalized.

However, the early thinking among the medical community is that because of the milder nature of Omicron, the lower chance of long Covid.

You work with immunocompromised people. Why is it important for them to get vaccinated?

Immunocompromised people are the ones I recommend the most to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Getting the booster shot is even more important. For my patients who are hesitant, I reassure them that the vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. If they've received other vaccines, like influenza and pneumonia, getting the Covid-19 vaccine will protect them even more.

Will variants become more resistant to vaccines over time?

Like with any other virus, multiple mutations and variants can arise, whether or not there is a vaccine. For example, flu vaccines are formulated differently every year to help fight against the many strains of influenza virus that appear every season. I believe we are moving in a similar direction with the Covid-19 vaccine. The company Pfizer has just announced work on an Omicron-specific vaccine is underway.

That said, this does not necessarily mean variants are more resistant to vaccines.

Can you get Covid multiple times within the year?

Since we are three years into the pandemic, it is absolutely possible to get Covid more than once. If you've been infected, you are naturally immune for about 90 days. After that, you can get it again. I've had many patients call in saying they've gotten Covid a second time, especially if they're unvaccinated. Being vaccinated significantly reduces this likelihood.

What else can you share about keeping our community safe and reducing the spread of Omicron?

I know we are all frustrated going into year three, but the biggest key to fighting this pandemic is still vaccination. Scientists are developing even better vaccines and specialized treatment options, which is also reassuring.

If you are still experiencing long-term effects of Covid-19, visit your primary care physician and see what treatment options are available to you.

For vaccine and testing locations in Sarasota-Manatee, click here.

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