News

Getting Vaccinated May Reduce Your Risk of Long COVID

Young adolescent receiving a vaccine.

Me789 Studio / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • A recent study found that vaccinated individuals are less likely to develop long COVID after COVID-19 infection compared to unvaccinated individuals.
  • Booster shots will likely reduce the risk of long COVID as well.
  • The best way to prevent long COVID is to avoid COVID-19 infection by wearing masks, getting vaccinated, and maintaining social distance.

A recent study found that fully vaccinated individuals have a lower risk of developing post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC)—also known as long COVID—after infection.

The authors analyzed data from the ZOE COVID Symptom Study, a mobile application in the U.K. where users can report infections and log symptoms to help researchers study COVID-19 cases.

They found that individuals who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines are almost 50% less likely to develop long COVID than unvaccinated individuals should they get infected by the virus.

The September study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, demonstrates that the two-dose vaccine series provides significant protection against severe and symptomatic disease.

How Does Vaccination Lower the Risk of Long COVID?

Long COVID can affect people of all ages, although it is significantly less common in children.

“In this study, it’s not that vaccine countered the long-term effects of the virus, but that among a population that was vaccinated and unvaccinated, the vaccinated were less likely to have long-term symptoms,” Priya Duggal, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Verywell.

Although we know that vaccines protect against COVID-19 infection and reduce the risk of severe outcomes, more research is needed to understand how it helps the body reduce the risk of long COVID.

“We don’t really know what the vaccine does to lower your risk of long COVID, but I can speculate that if long COVID is immune-related, the priming of the naive immune system with the mRNA vaccines may make it better prepared to fight infection and eliminate the virus, thus limiting the chronicity of the disease,” Duggal says. “The vaccine gives us the best prospects to fight off acute and long-term outcomes.”

Much remains to be understood about long COVID, not just its pathophysiology, but also its risk factors, the range and duration of symptoms, and potential treatments.

“The biological basis for long COVID is not well understood, and we can only speculate about the reasons that vaccines lower the risk,” Andrew Schamess, MD, internal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Verywell. 

COVID-19 infection is thought to damage the mitochondria and other cell structures, which sets off a cycle of inflammation and response that affects cellular function. This causes symptoms like fatigue and brain fog even after the infection has ended, Schamess explains.

Because the vaccines can reduce the severity and duration of infection, they may limit the damage to cells and prevent the persistent dysregulated immune response that leads to long COVID.

“This study provides evidence that prolonged COVID-19 symptoms are significantly less likely to develop in people who have been vaccinated,” Schamess adds. “In other words, the vaccines do protect against developing long COVID. This should be reassuring for those who have received a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine and provides another excellent reason for those who remain hesitant to get vaccinated.”

What This Means For You

Fully vaccinated individuals may have a lower risk of developing long COVID after infection. If you aren’t vaccinated yet, you can visit vaccines.gov to seek an available appointment near you.

Do Booster Shots Reduce Long COVID Risk?

Experts say it’s possible that vaccine booster shots also reduce the risk of long COVID. However, more studies are needed to determine its impact on the body and the degree of protection that it provides.

“Booster shots help to maintain immunity against COVID-19 infection,” Schamess says. “There is every reason to think that the booster, like the initial vaccination, will reduce the chance of infection, the severity of disease if infected, and the likelihood of long-term consequences.”

Individuals who already experience lasting symptoms should avoid reinfection as much as possible. Since vaccination lowers the risk of reinfection, there's a chance that booster shots can bolster that protection.

“At the least, the booster helps your immune system ward off a severe infection, which could be very hard on people already suffering from shortness of breath, neurologic symptoms, or organ damage,” Duggal says. “Limiting additional SARS-CoV-2 viral exposure should be paramount for those with long COVID.”

How to Avoid Long COVID

The best way to prevent developing long COVID is to avoid getting infected in the first place, experts say.

“We know that masks and social distancing and ventilation are the key factors in preventing infection,” Duggal says. “In addition, the vaccine also seems to reduce your risk of long COVID, so that would be another preventative measure you can take.”

The severity of initial COVID-19 illness cannot predict whether an individual will experience long COVID or not. To continue studying its long-term health consequences and potential treatment, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched an initiative that intends to answer many pressing questions about the condition.

“There are many unknowns with long COVID, but the greatest unknown is predicting who will get it,” Duggal says. “Until we can understand that risk, it’s important that everyone take precautions to avoid infection because we know that mild, moderate, and severe infections have all resulted in long-term symptoms. For sure, this seems cumbersome after greater than a year of precautions, but imagine having long-term symptoms like shortness of breath, or your heart racing, or brain fog, or kidney damage for greater than a year.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Antonelli M, Penfold RS, Merino J, et al. Risk factors and disease profile of post-vaccination SARS-CoV-2 infection in UK users of the COVID Symptom Study app: a prospective, community-based, nested, case-control study. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Published online September 1, 2021. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(21)00460-6

  2. Cavanaugh AM, Spicer KB, Thoroughman D, et al. Reduced Risk of Reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 After COVID-19 Vaccination — Kentucky, May–June 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(32):1081-1083. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7032e1

  3. National Institutes of Health. NIH launches new initiative to study “Long COVID." Updated February 23, 2021.