Referrals to long COVID clinic fall by 79% following roll-out of the vaccine

Referrals to Cambridge’s long COVID clinic fell dramatically in the period August 2021 to June 2022, which researchers say is likely due to the successful rollout of the vaccine.

According to the Office of National Statistics, in July this year an estimated 2 million people in the UK were living with self-reported long COVID — that is, symptoms continuing for more than four weeks after their first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. Patients report symptoms including fatigue, muscle aches, memory problems and shortness of breath more than six months post-acute COVID-19, and a significant number of patients have not fully recovered two years since the initial infection.

Two recent studies have suggested that vaccination strongly reduced long COVID symptoms one-to-three months after infection, but another study using a cohort of US Army Veterans suggested a more modest, 15% reduction at six months.

In May 2020, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), set up a long COVID clinic, with patients referred to the clinic based on a number of criteria, one of which is symptoms duration of at least five months. These patients tend to be those on the severe end of the symptom spectrum, having been referred following assessment by a team that includes a GP, mental health practitioners, physio and occupational therapists amongst other specialists.

Researchers at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease (CITIID) at the University of Cambridge and CUH, analysed data from the clinic and found a 79% drop in the number of patients being referred to the clinic from August 2021 to June 2022, compared to August 2020 to July 2021. The decrease began five months after people started receiving second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Six-month moving averages fell from around 10 referrals per month to just one or two referrals per month. This effect has so far been sustained until at least June 2022, despite four times more cases per month of acute COVID-19 in England across the same time periods.

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