December 29, 2021

Learning from the Spanish Flu: Let’s not forget about Long Covid.


The New York Times times reports a new record in daily cases, but many of us forget about the real danger behind these statistics: long Covid.

Some folks say that the Omicron variant is not as dangerous as previous variants like the Delta variant. It’s too early to decide if this statement is right or wrong, but maybe it doesn’t actually matter that much.


Let’s imagine there are two different diseases. One of them is dangerous for one out of ten people and the other for one out of a hundred folks. But what if the second disease is far more contagious than the first one?

If we end up having 500,000 cases per day, it doesn’t help much if the percentage of severe cases is slightly lower than before. There are reports of more and more children who end up in hospital.

But it’s not that children all of a sudden have a higher risk of getting seriously sick. It’s just that there are far more children who catch the virus.

And that’s the main problem right now. It’s true that vaccinations help to lower the rates of hospitalizations. It’s true that vaccinations offer additional protection for those with breakthrough infections, but all of that doesn’t help much if total case numbers are spiking.

Let me try again. If a disease spreads 10 times faster, how much does it help if it’s only half as dangerous? Exactly, not at all.

And if all of that wasn’t already scary enough, there is a far bigger problem than that. It’s called long Covid. Studies show that up to 50 percent of patients recovered from COVID-19 experience symptoms that are often referred to as long Covid.

On December 29th, 2021, the John Hopkins University reported 280 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. As not every country is able to track all cases, it is assumed that actual numbers are even higher than that.

What happens if 50 percent of these folks experience symptoms of long Covid? Exactly, another worldwide health crisis.

Many of us have heard about the Spanish Flu that caused millions of deaths last century, but did you hear about the long-term effects of this pandemic?

British doctors noted a rise in nervous disorders they described as melancholia in survivors of the Spanish Flu. Norwegian demographers showed that there was a seven-fold increase in admissions in psychiatric institutions after the pandemic.

These statistics from the past century might not give us all the details needed. We simply don’t have enough data from that time. Also, the science on mental health issues wasn’t that great 100 years ago.

But it’s not too far-fetched to worry about the long-term effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The last two years have been challenging and caused a lot of suffering, but let’s not forget that long Covid might be the bigger threat to our societies.

Every person catching the virus could be affected by long Covid. Therefore it should be our goal to minimize case numbers, right?

Why are we accepting record numbers without taking any action? Why are there folks downplaying the risks of the Omicron variant by saying that it was less severe? Why are we not preparing ourselves for the aftermath of this pandemic?

We know that the Omicron variant is far more contagious than previous variants. Getting our booster shots is a great way to minimize our risks, but it doesn’t take away all the risks. The fact that vaccinated folks are often allowed to travel, gather in big groups, and not wear a mask in public just blows my mind.

The vaccines are super helpful, but they are just one tool of many. Keeping our distance, avoiding large gatherings, and wearing our masks still matters. Not to forget that besides the folks who reject vaccines because of conspiracy theories, there are also people who cannot get their shots for medical reasons. Let’s not forget about these folks.

And the biggest group of people who can’t get vaccinated are the youngest members of our society. The more the Omicron variant spreads across the globe, the more children will catch the virus. And again, it’s not only about the hospitalizations in the short-run (already horrible), but also about the long-term effects.

We don’t know much about the long-term effects of COVID-19 yet, but it’s safe to say that we should take this seriously.

It’s one goal to avoid a collapse of the health care system this winter, but that’s not the only thing we should worry about. The long-term effects of this pandemic will be a challenge for the upcoming decades—yes, decades.

And that’s what really worries me right now. Our health care systems are already struggling. Not everyone has health insurance. Many folks can’t afford proper medication. And now, imagine 50 percent of all folks who had COVID-19 in the United States dealing with long Covid—we are talking about roughly 25 million citizens (if the pandemic ended today).

It’s too early to say how serious long Covid actually is. But it’s safe to say that every person catching the virus is one more person who could suffer for years.

So, whatever you read on the internet, please get your shots.

And after that, please continue to wear your mask. Please encourage others to get vaccinated. And most importantly, just because you are vaccinated doesn’t mean that it’s safe to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a large crowd or to travel across the country.

Let’s just stay at home one more time.


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