Vaccination Prior to Initial Infection Reduced Risk of Post-COVID Condition

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Researchers addressed the association between COVID-19 vaccination status and incidents of post-COVID condition.

Individuals who were vaccinated prior to being infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus were less likely to experience post-COVID condition (PCC) complications following their diagnosis, according to research published in Nature Communications.1 This positive association between vaccination status and PCC risk was more significant in those aged 12 to 17 years old. Furthermore, 9 out of 13 PCC outcomes were significantly lower for participants who were vaccinated compared with those that weren’t.

“Following the acute stage of illness, a broad spectrum of sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection has been reported in up to [a] third of recovered patients and is thought to affect more than 6% of all US adults. Termed ‘post-COVID conditions (PCC),’ these include fatigue, loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, cough, headache, pain, and a range of moderate to severe outcomes affecting the cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal, endocrine, and neurological systems,” wrote the authors of the study.1

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers aimed to address the association between COVID-19 vaccination status and incidents of post-COVID condition (PCC).
  • They found that individuals who were vaccinated prior to infection had a much more positive association with PCC compared with those who were not vaccinated.
  • Of 13 outcomes identified for PCC, 9 of them were significantly lower in the group of participants who were vaccinated.

According to the authors, PCC, sometimes referred to as “long COVID,” does not have an agreed-upon definition. However, the CDC’s definition, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, is as follows: “people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience long-term effects from their infection, known as long COVID or [PCC]. [PCC] is broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after acute COVID-19 infection.”1,2

COVID-19 vaccine vials

Post-COVID condition is broadly defined as signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after acute COVID-19 infection. | image credit: M.Rode-Foto / stock.adobe.com

In Malden et al’s research study, they gathered data from 161,531 COVID-19 cases among individuals who received a COVID-19 vaccination and compared them with a matched group of the same exact number of COVID-19 cases in individuals who did not receive a vaccination.1 Among the study participants, the mean age was 37.1 years; 54.5% were women, 36.2% were Hispanic, and 37.1% were White.

“During a median follow-up period of 151 days, a total of 158,404 new-onset PCC outcomes were identified. In adjusted analyses, the risk of PCC was significantly lower for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated patients for 9 of the 13 PCC outcomes studied,” continued the authors.1

Of the 9 reduced risks of PCC outcomes, the largest reduction in relative risk (RR) was identified in vaccinated patients for non-specific COVID-related outcomes. Given that reduced risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes is the main function of the COVID vaccine, it makes sense why this was the leading category of reduced RR.

Furthermore, the following outcomes that were reduced in RR were skin and subcutaneous tissue disorders, blood and hematologic disorders, circulatory disorders, and sensory disorders comprising of ear, nose, and throat disorders or visual distrubances.1

“Using EHR data from 8 large US integrated healthcare systems, the current study demonstrated a reduction in the incidence of most PCC outcomes associated with COVID-19 vaccination among more than 300,000 patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. In general, associations between vaccination status and PCC persisted across age groups, although with some evidence for slightly stronger associations at younger ages,” they wrote.1

Although the reduced risk of several PCC outcomes after vaccination was significantly higher compared with patients who were unvaccinated, the risk of developing mental health conditions was increased, although this risk was not statistically significant.1 Adverse mental health outcomes can be common in individuals experiencing PCC, whether they are vaccinated or not.

“The findings of this study suggest that people with PCC have a higher prevalence of psychiatric symptoms than other adults but are more likely to experience cost-related barriers to accessing therapy,” concluded authors of a study addressing psychiatric symptoms of adults with PCC.3

In another study, Naik et al addressed the need for better mental health resources and further identified PCC mental health complications as an outlier for patients who were previously diagnosed with COVID-19. Also, further reinforcing younger individuals’ inherent protection against PCC, older adults experienced the most complications among participants in both studies presented.

“It is possible that the abnormalities observed across multiple organ systems with PCC are mitigated by the vaccine through lowering viral reservoirs or reducing the inflammatory and/or immune responses often associated with the PCC syndrome… The main protective effect of COVID-19 vaccination on PCC is likely exerted through the prevention of the primary SARS-CoV-2 infection. Although this was not assessed in the current study, it is an important additional benefit to consider when assessing the overall value of COVID-19 vaccination,” concluded Malden et al.1

READ MORE: COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Dose Beneficial to Immunocompromised Patients

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References
1. Malden DE, Liu ILA, Qian L, et al. Post-COVID conditions following COVID-19 vaccination: a retrospective matched cohort study of patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection. Nat. Commun. 2024;15(1):4101. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-48022-9
2. Long covid or post-covid conditions. CDC. March 14, 2024. Accessed May 29, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html
3. Naik H, Tran KC, Staples JA, et al. Psychiatric Symptoms, Treatment Uptake, and Barriers to Mental Health Care Among US Adults With Post–COVID-19 Condition. JAMA Netw Open. 2024;7(4):e248481. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.8481
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