Steve Herbert highlights one small item of good news relating to Long Covid…

Over the last few weeks the national media headlines have been totally dominated by some very depressing headlines indeed.  So it would be so easy to overlook some slivers of genuinely good news.

Yet one such story found its way into the lower reaches of both the BBC and Sky news websites on the 15th February.

Good news

The good news in question relates to new findings published by the UK Health Securities Agency (UKHSA).  The agency has undertaken a rapid review of some 15 international studies, and concluded that;

people with COVID-19 who received 2 doses of the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Janssen vaccine, were about half as likely as people who received one dose or were unvaccinated to develop long COVID symptoms lasting more than 28 days”

This rather innocuous paragraph belies its potential importance to both individual citizens and indeed employers too.

Long Covid

For, as I wrote for Employer News in early January, one of the big unknowns of the latest Covid-19 variant (Omicron) was that the sheer number of new infections could add to the already huge number of Long Covid sufferers in the UK.

For those not already fully versed in the realities of Long Covid, it is probably worth mentioning that the latest data produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that on the 31st January 2022 there were 1.5 million people in the UK experiencing Long Covid conditions for 4 weeks or longer.  Of these, 685,000 (yes, you read that correctly) have been suffering such conditions for a year of longer.

Obviously such lengthy illness (and by extension absence from work) is a huge concern to employers, not least because the prevalence of Long Covid conditions sits firmly in the working-age population of the nation.  ONS data suggests that those aged between 35 and 69 are most likely to suffer one or more of the many symptoms associated with Long Covid.

Time to celebrate?

So the UKHSA findings suggesting that vaccinations may help contain this problem are very welcome indeed.

But it is probably a little too early for employers to crack open the champagne.

For the reality is that despite the rapid deployment of the UK vaccination programme last year, not many in the working-age population would have benefited from the suggested two-dose protection from Long Covid until at least the middle of 2021, and possibly not until the early autumn in many cases.

And of course the early months of 2021 were dominated by the Alpha and Delta variants.  The Alpha cases have already led to a significant spike in Long Covid cases lasting over a year, and the Delta data is yet to show against this measure.

It’s also worth pointing out that whilst the risk of Long Covid for those double vaccinated is potentially halved, the number of infections from Alpha, Delta, and Omicron has been progressively higher, as can be seen from the below ONS chart (which I have augmented with the approximate timing of each new variant for ease of reading):

So with very many more positive cases arising from these variants, there remains the possibility that those suffering Long Covid conditions for a year or longer will continue to rise.

And for those employers that continue to experience Long Covid absences, I would refer you to my January article that outlined some responses (including the use of Employee Benefits) that can be taken to help combat this issue.

Reaching the peak earlier?

Yet despite all the above caveats, the UKHSA findings do still suggest that the peak those year-long Long Covid cases could now be somewhat sooner that might have been previously expected.

And that is some very welcome good news in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and gloom.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing