By Annette Pinder

As many wonder whether the Covid pandemic is officially over, Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, says, “What really matters is the number of ongoing infections, suffering and death, and the measures we should take to avoid infection.” Shmerling notes that no one really knows whether this winter will bring a decline in infections or a continuation of the hundreds of deaths and thousands of new infections we are experiencing each day in the United States. He is also concerned about the fact that people’s willingness to get vaccinated and take reasonable precautions to avoid getting it have been complicated by their false belief that the pandemic is over. He says it is not.

To make things even more complicated, the Centers for Disease control has found that new research which examined death certificates from January 1, 2020, through June 30, 2022, points to the likelihood that long Covid caused or contributed to at least 3,500 deaths in the United States. Believed to be the first nationwide examination of whether long Covid or a similar description appears on American death records, the results confirm the seriousness of long-term post-Covid medical problems.

Farida Ahmad, lead investigator and health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, said, “It’s not one of the leading causes of death, but, considering that this is the first time that we’ve looked at it and that long Covid is an illness that we’re learning more about day after day, the major takeaway is that it is possible for somebody to die and for long Covid to have played a part in their death.”

Long Covid symptoms include breathing problems, extreme fatigue, heart issues, cognitive, and neurological issues lasting months or longer. The researchers found that of the death certificates reviewed, 1,021.487 listed Covid-19 as an underlying or contributing cause of death. Of those, 3,544 specifically listed long Covid or post-Covid syndrome. Both Ms. Ahmad and experts not involved in the research think that the number of deaths related to long Covid are actually much higher because death certificates are often incomplete and there was really no code for long Covid until after 2020.

The researchers say about 57 percent of deaths related to long Covid were in individuals ages who were 75 or older, and highlighted deaths in individuals with a serious initial infection, who later suffered from organ damage and other severe complications. Experts say additional studies are needed, including deaths due to suicide in people who experienced devastating post-Covid symptoms.

It is estimated that long Covid currently affects anywhere from 7.7 million to 23 million people in the United States. Studies have also shown that some groups of people may be affected more by post-COVID conditions. At higher risk are those who experienced more severe COVID-19 illness, especially those who were hospitalized or needed intensive care; those who had underlying health conditions prior to COVID-19; individuals who did not get a COVID-19 vaccine; and people who had multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after COVID-19 illness.

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