The Biden administration is launching an initiative to study long COVID and, for the first time, carry out clinical trials to study potential treatments for the illness.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the formation of the Office of Long COVID Research and Practice on Monday. The office will study the illness that leaves some with chronic exhaustion, pain, brain fog, and more for months or years after contracting COVID-19.
The department also announced that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will soon be launching two clinical trials for studying long COVID treatment as part of a $1.15 billion research program into the condition. The RECOVER Initiative, first established in 2021, has one of the largest study groups of patients with long COVID in the world with more than 24,000 participants so far, according to the administration.
“As our nation continues to make strides in combating COVID-19, it is crucial that we address the impact of Long COVID and provide resources to those in need,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Last year President Biden called on HHS to coordinate the response to Long COVID. The Official establishment of the Long COVID Coordinating office and the launch of the RECOVER clinical trials solidifies this issue as an ongoing priority.”
It is estimated that the illness has upended up to 23 million people’s lives in the U.S. after the onset of the pandemic, but the illness remains understudied and patients with long COVID are left with little options for treatment; physicians who are familiar with their condition have months-long waitlists, while other doctors often dismiss patients’ concerns.
Patients have also been frustrated with the administration’s decision to end the COVID-19 emergency earlier this year, which represented another twist of the knife for patients who have already felt ignored and discarded for years. Some advocates have praised the RECOVER initiative, but have said that it needs to go further in treating patients’ concerns seriously.
The Biden administration has been touting its whole-of-government approach to fighting long COVID for over a year, and the administration has requested more funding for studying the illness in his 2024 budget request.
“The Office of Long COVID Research and Practice will enhance efforts being undertaken across the U.S. government to improve the lives of those who continue to experience the long-term impacts of the worst public health crisis in a century,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine. “Bringing together the resources and expertise of federal, state, and local partners, patients, providers, researchers, and the business sector to answer the American people’s most urgent calls to action.”
In May, the RECOVER initiative put out a first-of-its-kind study defining key symptoms for long COVID. The study identified 12 symptoms that could help diagnose a patient, with major symptoms being loss of smell and taste, a worsening of symptoms following physical or mental activity, chronic cough, and brain fog.
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