Is long COVID a concern amid CDC dropping recommendations? UCSF expert weighs in

A mask is seen on the ground at John F. Kennedy Airport on April 19, 2022 in New York City.
A mask is seen on the ground at John F. Kennedy Airport on April 19, 2022 in New York City.` Photo credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – Following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropping some of its COVID-19 quarantine and distancing recommendations, UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong understands the concerns some people have about developing chronic symptoms.

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Chin-Hong said Friday on KCBS Radio's "Ask An Expert" that a long coronavirus infection remains a risk, especially among the unvaccinated. Hospitalization is increasingly possible, too, for seniors who’ve not yet received a booster dose.

But he said anyone concerned about contracting long COVID-19 should keep two things in mind.

"No. 1: It's much less common in the era of omicron, whether or not that's related to omicron not being necessarily one that causes as much inside disease or bloodstream disease," Chin-Hong told KCBS Radio's Melissa Culross and Eric Thomas on Friday.

"And the second is that people who are vaccinated really do have a lower chance of getting ... some of these chronic symptoms," he added. "So that's what the evidence is moving towards. Of course, there's gonna be a small risk, but it's not as high as in the previous era."

Booster adoption rates have lagged behind vaccinations across all age groups, while a higher share of children and younger adults are unvaccinated than their older counterparts. Chin-Hong said COVID-19 hospitalizations among vaccinated people have increased, particularly among older Americans who haven’t been boosted.

About 35% of Americans who are at least 65 years old haven’t received an additional dose of the vaccine, according to CDC data, compared to about 8% who haven’t completed their initial vaccination series. Chin-Hong said he is particularly concerned about this group of adults, and that receiving a booster shot will go a long way toward lowering the risk of long COVID-19.

"The focus on preventing severe disease is one that the country is moving towards," Chin-Hong said. "Protecting our hospitals, keeping people away from getting into the hospitals, because even unvaccinated people have new options like Paxlovid, or still some monoclonal antibodies that work, even when they're infected, to keep them away from the hospitals."

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