Vaccination after developing long COVID: impact on clinical presentation, viral persistence and immune responses

Int J Infect Dis. 2023 Sep 15;S1201-9712(23)00720-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2023.09.006. Online ahead of print.


Background: Vaccination protects against severe COVID-19 manifestations. For those with post-COVID-19 conditions (PCC) or long COVID, the impact of COVID-19 vaccination on the evolution of symptoms, immune responses and viral persistence is unclear.

Methods: In this prospective observational cohort study, we evaluated the number of PCC symptoms, affected organ systems and psychological well-being scores before, and after patients with PCC received COVID-19 vaccination. We simultaneously evaluated biomarkers of systemic inflammation and levels of plasma cytokines/chemokines. We measured plasma and intracellular levels of SARS-CoV-2 antigens, and immunoreactivity to SARS-CoV-2 antigens in blood.

Results: COVID-19 vaccination was associated with decreases in number of PCC symptoms (pre-vaccination: 6.56 ± 3.1 vs. post-vaccination: 3.92 ± 4.02; p<0.001) and affected organ systems (pre-vaccination: 3.19 ± 1.04 vs. post-vaccination: 1.89 ± 1.12; p<0.001), and increases in WHO-5 Well-Being Index Scores (pre-vaccination: 42.67 ± 22.76 vs. post-vaccination: 56.15 ± 22.83; p<0.001). Patients with PCC also had significantly decreased levels of several pro-inflammatory plasma cytokines/chemokines after COVID-19 vaccination including sCD40L, GRO-⍺, macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1⍺, interleukin (IL)-12p40, G-colony stimulating factor (CSF), M-CSF, IL-1β and stem cell factor (SCF). PCC participants presented a certain level of immunoreactivity towards SARS-CoV-2, that was boosted with vaccination. SARS-CoV-2 S1 antigen persisted in the blood of PCC participants, mostly in non-classical monocytes, regardless of participants receiving vaccination.

Conclusions: Our study shows higher pro-inflammatory responses associated with PCC symptoms and brings forward a possible role for vaccination in mitigating PCC symptoms by decreasing systemic inflammation. We also observed persistence of viral products independent of vaccination that could be involved in perpetuating inflammation through non-classical monocytes.

Keywords: Post-COVID-19 conditions (PCC); inflammation; long COVID; post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC); vaccination; viral persistence.