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U.S. Long COVID Strategy Takes Flight

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has opened the Office of Long COVID Research and Practice, which will be responsible for leading the federal government’s long COVID response and coordination efforts. Also, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has opened enrollment for Phase II clinical trials during which researchers will test nearly a dozen possible treatments.

“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 Adm. Rachel Levine, MD, who will oversee the office. “[The office is] bringing together the resources and expertise of federal, state, and local partners, patients, providers, researchers, and the business sector to answer the American peoples’ most urgent calls to action.”

Meanwhile, in various clinical trials, NIH researchers plan to test at least four potential long COVID treatments and at least seven other possible solutions in development that are expected to arrive to the market in several months. These treatments include drugs, biologics, medical devices, and other therapies.

“We know that when patients are suffering, we can never move fast enough,” said Acting NIH Director Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD. “NIH is committed to a highly coordinated and scientifically rigorous approach to find treatments that will provide relief for the millions of people living with long COVID.”

Funding for these trials comes from the $1.15 billion Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) initiative. During the first phase of RECOVER, investigators observed patients across multiple sites to learn more about long COVID, including symptoms and why some people do not develop this disorder while others struggle to clear the virus. So far, scientists have recruited thousands of patients, analyzed millions of electronic health records, and conducted dozens of pathology studies.

“Hundreds of RECOVER investigators and research participants are working hard to uncover the biologic causes of long COVID. The condition affects nearly all body systems and presents with more than 200 symptoms,” said Walter J. Koroshetz, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and co-lead of the RECOVER Initiative. “Recognizing that more than one solution is likely needed, we’ve taken the lessons learned from RECOVER participants to design rigorous clinical trial platforms that will identify treatments for persons with different symptom clusters to improve their function and well-being.”

HHS estimates anywhere between 7.7 million and 23 million Americans have developed long COVID. These effects can last for months. In 2022, the White House called for a coordinated national response to address 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,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said this week.

For more on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention and Infectious Disease Alert.