NIH Jumpstarts Study To Learn Long-Term COVID Effects

By on
 National Institutes of Health
A health care worker who was being treated for Ebola at a National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which is shown here, has been declared free of the virus and was released from the hospital on April 9, 2015, according to the U.S. aid agency Partners In Health.

The National Institute of Health announced it would award $470 million in funding to researchers for the examination of long-term effects for those infected by COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that of those who tested positive for the virus, 65.9% experienced symptoms that lasted four weeks or more.

At a press conference Wednesday, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told reporters that the funds will be divided by New York University to fund more than 100 researchers at institutions around the country. The goal is to accelerate work to build a sweeping "meta-cohort" that includes thousands of COVID-19 survivors of various ages and backgrounds who are still experiencing symptoms more than a month after their initial infection.

Known as the NIH Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative, the money for the program comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that was passed by Congress earlier this year.

“We know some people have had their lives completely upended by the major long-term effects of COVID-19,” Collins said at a press conference. “These studies will aim to determine the cause and find much-needed answers to prevent this often-debilitating condition and help those who suffer move toward recovery.”

Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said that intensive research using “all available tools is necessary to understand what happens to stall recovery from this terrible virus.”

Survivors of COVID-19 have reported experiencing an array of symptoms even after recovering from the virus itself. These "long haulers" report experiencing symptoms that include extreme fatigue, headaches, dizziness, "brain fog" and difficulty breathing for months after their initial infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the data varies wildly from 5% to 80% on how many survivors of COVID-19 experience its after-effects.

In a more recent survey, the CDC reported that two out of three respondents who experience the virus had symptoms that lasted for more than four weeks after the initial infection.

RECOVERY is aiming to enroll between 30,000 and 40,000 people to study which is considered by researchers to be a very large cohort. Dr. Gary H. Gibbons, director of NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explained that in selecting such a large sample, the goal is to be a lot more ambitious here" with the goal of hitting targets within the next year to 18 months.

The purpose of the RECOVER effort though will not be studying any specific treatment for the long-term effects of COVID-19, but instead remains centered around the causes. Dr. Stuart Katz of NYU said that the first question for researchers will be how to refine a definition for these cases of “long COVID-19.”

Join the Discussion