A research team at the University of Oxford has found that vaccination against COVID-19 consistently reduced the risk of long COVID symptoms.
While vaccines have proved effective in preventing severe COVID-19, their ability to prevent long-term symptoms has not yet been fully understood.
Published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine the study, which was supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) conducted extensive analyses using primary care electronic health records from the UK, Spain, and Estonia.
The team from the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) examined data from more than 20 million vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals and identified cases of long COVID based on specific criteria defined by the World Health Organisation. The study focused on adults who were registered for at least 180 days in each respective country.
Dani Prieto-Alhambra, Professor of Pharmaco- and device epidemiology at NDORMS, who led the study explained: “Vaccines against COVID-19 were rapidly developed to tackle the pandemic and, to date, eight vaccines have received authorisation from international regulators, including EMA and MHRA, with billions of doses delivered.
“These vaccines proved to be highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 but it’s known that around one in 10 people suffer from persistent symptoms, what we call long COVID. We wanted to assess if COVID vaccines had any impact on long COVID symptoms and obtained funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR)to conduct a study to research this.”
Across the different cohorts analysed, the researchers observed a significant decrease in the occurrence of long COVID among vaccinated individuals compared to those who were unvaccinated.
Dr Annika Jodicke, Senior Pharmacoepidemiologist and study co-lead, said: “We were able to demonstrate how both the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine prevented the development of persistent COVID symptoms. Additionally, we compared different vaccinations and found that the BioNTech/Pfizer provided better protection against long COVID compared to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Dr Marti Catala, Senior Data Scientist and lead author of the manuscript, added: “Thanks to our international collaborations, we replicated our analyses using data from Spain and Estonia. Our findings were consistent across the three countries and many different populations, emphasising the critical role that vaccination plays in protecting individuals from the long-term consequences of COVID-19.”
As well as the Oxford BRC, the study was funded by the NIHR through a specific call to research long COVID prevention and treatment. It offers valuable insights that can inform public health strategies and vaccination campaigns worldwide.