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Millions of Americans are still suffering from a wide spectrum of symptoms long after they've recovered from their original coronavirus infections, and it's very unclear what the disease's trajectory is — or even how many people are affected.
What we're watching: We still don't have a good grasp on how susceptible vaccinated people are to long COVID. If the condition remains a threat even for the vaccinated, that could shape the risks people are willing to take in the future.
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The big picture: “We have millions of people in the United States whose lives are changed," said Megan Ranney, a professor at the Brown School of Public Health, which recently launched an initiative to study the impact of long COVID.
"Some of them are permanently disabled, some are partially disabled, some are able to go about their work but are different because they’re fatigued or can’t smell," she added.
Why it matters: Beyond the individual impact, if enough people continue to suffer to the point they can't work, that will have all kinds of implications for employers and social programs.
And if people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged to begin with suffer disproportionately from long COVID — which is likely, as they were hit hardest by the virus itself — that could just worsen societal disparities.
If left unaddressed, “we would have failed people who we already failed," Ranney said. "It will have a generational ripple effect of people who are unable to work or unable to work to their full capacity, which certainly has economic implications, but also has mental and social implications for folks.”
Between the lines: Vaccines haven't eliminated many people's fear of long-term complications following infection.
A recent Harris poll, conducted with the CDC, found that two-thirds of vaccinated respondents are concerned about experiencing long COVID if they get a breakthrough case.
"No one wants to be foggy for the rest of their life, and I think if there's a reasonable chance you could get long COVID, I think a lot of people will take more precautions," said Zeke Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.
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