COVID vaccine can decrease chances of developing long COVID

A 39-year-old mother of two school-aged children considered herself very healthy.

She did not take medications, exercised regularly and even planned on running a half-marathon. She never believed COVID posed a significant risk to her health, so she passed on vaccination. Last spring, she was unconcerned when she developed mild symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and headache, and tested positive for COVID.

She was unprepared for what came next. She developed symptoms that continued to plague her nearly a year later. She battles “brain fog” (difficulty thinking and concentrating) and fatigue and finds it difficult to keep up with her kids. Her goal of running a half-marathon remains on hold as she becomes winded even after walking a few short blocks. Numerous medical tests have not found any answers. Because her symptoms followed her illness, they were attributed to COVID. Frustratingly, there are no consistently reliable tests to show if someone has a post-COVID condition or even had COVID in the past.

There is a myriad of symptoms people describe following COVID. Like the woman described, many complain of brain fog and fatigue. Other common symptoms include chronic cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fast heart rate, diarrhea, lightheadedness, depression and persistent loss of taste or smell. This list is far from comprehensive, as many experiences other symptoms as well.

Such symptoms can last weeks, months or even years following infection. Although more common following a severe illness, post-COVID conditions also develop in people following a mild illness.

So why are we discussing this in an article about vaccines? As one may imagine, the risk of developing a post-COVID condition is higher in the unvaccinated. Emerging data show that the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all significantly decrease the chance of having post-COVID conditions if given either before or after COVID infection.

A review of over ten studies evaluated the effect of receiving at least one COVID vaccine on preventing post-COVID conditions. The studies included over 1.6 million people worldwide. They showed that those who received a vaccine before having an infection were at a 35 percent lower risk of developing such symptoms, while the vaccine after infection was 27 percent effective.

The bottom line is that the vaccine, given before or after COVID infection, had a meaningful decrease in post-COVID conditions. The studies also found that vaccination following COVID was safe and well tolerated.

COVID is not gone. There are nearly 300,000 cases reported a week in the United States, and that does not count those who are only doing home tests. Over a quarter of those who have had COVID report having had a post-COVID condition. Of those, just over half report that the symptoms have resolved. Only 15 percent of Americans are considered up to date with their COVID vaccinations.

If for no other reason, people who are not current with their vaccinations should consider getting vaccinated to decrease their chances of developing post-COVID conditions.

Megan Berman
Richard Rupp
Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics         at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email