Long Covid researcher skeptical of study suggesting Omicron causes less disease

New research from a UK study shows Omicron may be less likely to cause long Covid than its predecessor, Delta.

Photo: 123RF

But here in New Zealand, researchers and long Covid sufferers say that is not the case for Kiwis and they are renewing calls for support and warning just how severe the long-term impacts can be. 

Researchers at King’s College in London found the odds of developing long Covid after infection were 20-50 percent lower during the Omicron wave in the UK compared to Delta. 

Dr Claire Steves, who led the study, said they are a few reasons why that might be. 

“Omicron’s less likely to cause severe disease even when you take into account vaccinations, I think Delta still could cause quite severe disease and people had the characteristic lung disease that sent them to hospital and sometimes into the intensive care unit.”

Dr Anna Brooks is leading a crowd funded Covid-19 study here. She said the UK study does not provide any comfort for New Zealand. 

Dr Anna Brooks

Dr Anna Brooks
Photo: Supplied/Anna Brooks

“Arguably, we will have a very small proportion of New Zealanders with long Covid from the original variant Delta, compared to Omicron. Our Omicron co-hort is absolutely, phenomenally exploding right now.”

In the UK 4.5 percent of people studied during the Omicron peak had long Covid compared to 10.8 percent during the Delta wave. 

Dr Brooks said the rate of long Covid here with Omicron would more likely be around 10 percent. 

“The official number of infections is what something like 1.2 million, you know the modellers will tell us the number will be much greater than that, if we say it’s been two million infections and let’s say 10 percent get long Covid that’s you know 200,000 New Zealanders that are going to be needing health care and assistance.” 

Health care and assistance are what Stacey King has been fighting for. 

Her symptoms got so bad after having Covid-19 that she ended up in hospital unable to walk. 

“They started doing tests straight away. Day four in hospital they diagnosed me with functional neurological disorder. They said that it was because I was stressed and it was just a complete coincidence that I happened to have Covid-19 at the time.” 

She was sent home with painkillers and told she would start to bounce back soon but that did not happen. 

Four months later she is still in the same position and has had to pay to see specialists privately. 

“The loss of feeling from my legs, from my knees down, is astonishing. Private neurologist was doing pen practice, drew blood, and I didn’t even feel it. It’s in my fingers as well is. Actually, a couple of weekends ago my hand got slammed shut in a car tailgate and I didn’t even realize it and so three fingers were impacted and one with a fracture.” 

King is desperate for some answers and support. 

The Ministry of Health told Checkpoint a long Covid advisory group had their first meeting at the start of this month, with more planned. 

They were monitoring treatments and services, updating evidence and research gaps and have funded a study run through Wellington University. 

But Dr Brooks was not convinced just yet. 

“We heard as far back as mid-March that there was going to be a long Covid expert advisory group you know there are many of us, you know, that are all well connected within the long Covid research arena here in New Zealand, including with all of the patient support groups and to date, no one really knows who’s on the advisory clinic at the ministry.”


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