Long COVID has been “such a lonely place,” Kelly House, a 52-year-old long-hauler in North Carolina, told me. “You almost feel like, what’s wrong with you that you can’t get past this?” House’s fatigue and headaches, which have plagued her since July, retreated the morning after she received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on March 10, taking a hefty slice of self-doubt and confusion with them. “I finally have good news now,” she said.
Since the start of the pandemic, long-haulers have been navigating their own illness, paving paths for researchers to follow. Online support groups have swollen to many thousands of members, who have spearheaded efforts to bring recognition to their sickness. When some long-haulers first started to report that the vaccines had seemingly driven their symptoms into hiding, others rushed to immortalize those stories in data.
One patient-led survey, run by the filmmaker Gez Medinger, found that among 345 long-haulers—most of them in the United Kingdom—who said they had received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks earlier, roughly a third of respondents felt that their symptoms had improved. About a fifth of the participants felt worse, and half experienced no change. Diana Berrent, the founder of Survivor Corps, a long-COVID support group, told me that similar results emerged from her group’s survey, which is tracking the symptoms of about 850 vaccinated long-haulers and counting, some 40 percent of whom say their symptoms have waned post-vaccination. (Another 45 percent said their symptoms were unchanged, while 15 percent said they had worsened.) Hannah Davis, of Body Politic, another support group, is amassing similar accounts. The mood in the past few weeks, several long-haulers told me, has started to tip toward cautious buoyancy as stories trickle in, no two quite alike.
After spending 10 months with a steady drumbeat of fatigue, chest pain, congestion, shortness of breath, and burning body pain, Jean Bratman, 62, of Maryland, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in January. The week after the shot, she took her first walk in three months. Now seven weeks out from her second dose, she is fully vaccinated—and for the first time in a year, “I feel nearly normal, almost symptom-free,” she said. “It’s wonderful.” In Seattle, Anne McCloskey, 54, rediscovered the taste of oranges and sushi—food that had, for the better part of a year, been colorful textures, devoid of flavor—after finishing her full course of Moderna’s vaccine in February. The shots stripped away her insomnia, heart problems, and cognitive issues that had caused her to forget her son’s birthday. Long COVID “felt like someone threw a weight on me and sunk me, like an anchor,” McCloskey told me. She is finally unmoored.
Read: Unlocking the mysteries of long COVID