Biden Administration Calls for More Long COVID Research

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is calling for a new Office of Long COVID Research and Practice to direct an “all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government approach” to researching Long COVID—a condition marked by long-term symptoms following a case of COVID-19—and supporting those who have it, according to a Long COVID research action plan released Aug. 3 by the Biden Administration.

“Long after the more immediate effects of the pandemic, the long-term impacts on the health of the nation will continue for years to come,” the report reads.

The report does not formally establish an Office of Long COVID Research and Practice, which “will need resources and staffing.” Rather, it recommends the formation of such an office as part of a broad plan to better understand and respond to Long COVID.

A report accompanying the research plan lays out federal resources currently available to people who have Long COVID—including financial, employment, and caregiving support—as well as guidance for health care professionals caring for Long COVID patients. The President Joe Biden ordered the reports in April.

Recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that one fifth of Americans who have had COVID-19 in their past has Long COVID symptoms. This can lead to cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, brain damage, chronic pain and neurologic problems. Some people find them disabling. A recent study found that 4 million Americans are out of work due to Long COVID.

Continue reading: There’s a chance you could have COVID for a long time and not even know it

The research action plan details the Biden Administration’s scientific priorities related to Long COVID, including better understanding the condition’s prevalence, risk factors, and potential treatments and preventive measures. It also calls for more research into whether the condition has various “subtypes” that may require different treatments.

Although some individuals do improve with age, Long COVID remains untreatable. Some Long COVID treatment centers have popped up across the country, but they haven’t been enough to meet patient demand. The new report recommends establishing “Long COVID Centers of Excellence” that, along with primary care physicians, could provide care based on the latest research.

This research plan calls for better understanding how Long COVID impacts different populations, such as children and adults from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or those who live in rural areas.

Late 2020 saw Congress give the U.S. National Institutes of Health more than $1 million to research Long COVID. But the NIH’s hallmark effort, a multi-site study called RECOVER, has so far enrolled only about 7,000 of its desired 40,000 participants, drawing criticism from many Long COVID patients and advocates. Officials at NIH acknowledged the difficulty in getting the enrollment process started within the slow-moving federal system.

The HHS report states that additional funds will be required in the future to enable these initiatives to succeed.

In a statement, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Rachel Levine stresses that the reports are only the beginning of the administration’s Long COVID efforts. “These initial reports are an important step as HHS continues to accelerate research and programmatic support to address the consequences of the pandemic and work across sectors to ensure no one is left behind as we continue to build a healthier future,” she said.

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